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United States v. Catalano

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 20, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
FREDERICK P. CATALANO, JR., and MICHAEL COSTANZA, Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

KIMBA M. WOOD, District Judge.

On August 26, 2013, Defendant Frederick P. Catalano, Jr. ("Catalano") and Defendant Michael Costanza ("Costanza") were charged with: (1) conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (Count One); (2) conspiracy to defraud the United States Railroad Retirement Board ("RRB"), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count Two); (3) health care fraud (Catalano, Count Four) (Costanza, Count Six); (4) mail fraud (Catalano, Count Eight); and (5) wire fraud (Catalano, Count Eleven) (Costanza, Count Thirteen). On October 10, 2013, after a thirteen-day jury trial, both Defendants were found guilty on all counts.

Defendants now move for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure ("FRCP") on the grounds that the Government failed to present evidence that would enable a reasonable jury to find that Defendants: (1) participated in the alleged conspiracy; or (2) provided false information to the RRB in order to obtain disability benefits. Additionally, Costanza argues that the Government failed to establish that the conspiracy and health care fraud counts were brought within the statute of limitations.

In the alternative, Defendants move for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33 of the FRCP. Costanza moves for a new trial because (1) "the jury was improperly exposed to evidence regarding the disability applications filed by other former [Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) retirees], " (Costanza Mem. of Law 11 [Dkt. No. 152]); (2) the Court "erred by denying the defense request to limit the redacted indictment sent to the jury, " ( id. ); and (3) the Court "erred by failing to give a multiple conspiracy charge as requested by the defense, " ( id. at 12). Catalano asserts no separate grounds as the basis for his Rule 33 motion.

For the reasons that follow, the motions for judgment of acquittal and for a new trial, [Dkt. Nos. 146, 150], as to both Defendants are DENIED.

I. Rule 29 Motions

A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to FRCP 29, "the court on the defendant's motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. "A defendant challenging the sufficiency of trial evidence bears a heavy burden." United States v. Giovanelli, 464 F.3d 346, 349 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). As explained by the Second Circuit:

Not only must the evidence be viewed in the light most favorable to the Government and all permissible inferences drawn in the Government's favor, but the jury verdict must be upheld if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, a court may grant a judgment of acquittal only if the evidence that the defendant committed the crime alleged was nonexistent or... meager.

United States v. Jackson, 335 F.3d 170, 180 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

B. Discussion

i. Conspiracy and Intent to Defraud the RRB

1. Applicable Law

"In order to convict a defendant of the crime of conspiracy, the Government must show that two or more persons entered into a joint enterprise for an unlawful purpose, with awareness of its general nature and extent." United States v. Torres, 604 F.3d 58, 65 (2d Cir. 2010). "The Government's proof of an agreement does not require evidence of a formal or express agreement; it is enough that the parties have a tacit understanding to carry out the prohibited conduct." United States v. Nusraty, 867 F.2d 759, 763 (2d Cir. 1989) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Second Circuit has stressed that:

When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in a conspiracy case, deference to the jury's findings is especially important... because a conspiracy by its very nature is a secretive operation, and it is a rare case where all aspects of a conspiracy ...

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