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United States v. Belgorodskaya

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 2, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RAISA BELGORODSKAYA, Defendant.

OPINION

THOMAS P. GRIESA, District Judge.

Petitioner Raisa Belgorodskaya ("Belgorodskaya" or "Petitioner") brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence. Belgorodskaya was sentenced principally to six months' imprisonment for her participation in a long-running scheme that defrauded the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc. (the "Claims Conference") out of $57 million dollars. She now raises an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, contending that her attorney failed to fully investigate her mental and physical health.

For the reasons set forth below, her petition is denied.

Background

The Claims Conference is a not-for-profit organization that administers funds made available by the German government for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. The Claims Conference acts as an agent of the German government, screening applicants for eligibility and processing reparations in the form of one-time and monthly payments.

Germany has set forth specific criteria for determining whether individuals are eligible to receive reparations. However, from approximately 1994 to 2010, individuals-many of whom were employed by the Claims Conference-submitted and approved fraudulent applications in order to make a profit. These individuals altered personal identification documents, invented stories of persecution during World War II, and submitted fraudulent applications often unbeknownst to the individuals whose names were on the applications. This scheme cost the Claims Conference and the German government $57 million.

Petitioner benefited from the scheme in multiple ways. From approximately 2006 to 2010, Belgorodskaya collected identification documents, such as passports and birth certificates, and gave them to Polina Berenson, a Claims Conference caseworker. Berenson then altered the documents and created false applications based on those documents. She changed any personal details that made the applicant ineligible for payment. When the Claims Conference issued reparations checks to applicants, Belgoroskaya demanded $300 for her help in preparing the fraudulent applications.

Belgorodskaya also submitted a fraudulent application in her own name, receiving over $41, 000 to which she was not entitled. In her live in a Ukrainian ghetto for three years. However, unlike millions of Holocaust victims, Belgorodskaya never actually lived in a ghetto. Petitioner also arranged for her children-who were not eligible to receive any compensation-to receive compensation twice.

Then, on January 12, 2010, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") uncovered the scheme, Belgorodskaya made two threatening phone calls to the Claims Conference employee responsible for its investigation of the fraud. The FBI recorded two voicemails in which Belgorodskaya said, "Stop your dirty, nefarious actions. Because it's fraught with consequences, it will leave its mark on your life and the life of your daughter." At the time, the Claims Conference employee had a young daughter.

Belgorodskaya pleaded guilty to mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and witness tampering. The court sentenced petitioner on January 27, 2014. The applicable Sentencing Guidelines range was 18 to 24 months' imprisonment. (See Presentence Report ("PSR") at 14). Probation recommended a sentence of 6 months in prison, in light of the information set forth in the Government's § 5K1.1 letter. Probation based its recommendation its finding that "the defendant never really took her criminal conduct serious[ly]... and [believes] that she shouldn't be severely punished for her action." (PSR at 15). The court imposed a below-Guidelines sentence of six months' imprisonment followed by two

Belgorodskaya now petitions the court to vacate her sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, for ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, Belgorodskaya argues that counsel was ineffective because he did not contact enough of her treating physicians to be able to adequately represent her mental and physical health to the court. She also contends that counsel failed to correct the PSR's inaccurate description of her educational background. (Pet. at 3).

Discussion

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2255 states that a court shall vacate, set aside, or correct a sentence if the court finds that there has been "such a denial or infringement of the constitutional rights of the prisoner as to render the judgment vulnerable to collateral attack." The Supreme Court has established a two-part test for evaluating § 2255 based on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. A petition under § 2255 on the basis of ineffective assistance will be granted only if a petitioner is able to show: (1) counsel's performance was deficient and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).

Belgorodskaya is unable to satisfy either prong, and therefore her ineffective assistance claim fails. Counsel's assistance was not deficient, and even assuming it was deficient, Belgorodskaya is unable ...


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