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United States v. Robbins

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 5, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JERRY ROBBINS, a/k/a JERRY ROBINS, d/b/a FINISH LINE AUTO SALES, a/k/a FINISH LINE AUTO, Defendant.

DECISION and ORDER

THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for acquittal, dkt. # 157, in this matter involving allegations that Defendant laundered money for drug dealers by selling them automobiles and violated laws regarding the reporting of cash transactions greater than $10, 000. The parties have briefed the issues.

II. BACKGROUND

The government charged Defendant Jerry Robbins in a twenty-six count indictment on September 15, 2010. See dkt. # 1. Generally, the government alleged that Defendant laundered money for drug dealers through his business, Finish Line Auto Sales. According to the government, Defendant sold automobiles to persons he knew to be drug dealers for cash, titled those vehicles in the names of third parties, and then failed to file currency reports mandated by federal law for cash transactions of more than $10, 000. Such practices, the government alleges, were a means by which persons engaged in illegal drug sales could dispose of the cash from those sales and make the money appear to come from a legitimate source.

Count 1 of the indictment charged Defendant with conspiracy to engage in money laundering. Count 2 alleged money laundering in a sale to an undercover officer. Counts 3 through 9 charged money laundering with respect to specific transactions. The indictment listed a particular vehicle, purchase price, and date of transaction, but alleged that the criminal conduct was of the same type for each transaction. Counts 10 through 16 charged defendant with engaging in monetary transactions within the United States involving property valued greater than $10, 000 which was derived from a specified unlawful activity. The government also charged Defendant with aiding and abetting on Counts 3 through 16. Counts 17 through 25 charged Defendant with violating certain laws related to reporting cash transactions over $10, 000. Each of those counts referenced specific transactions. Count 26 charged the defendant with violating laws prohibiting the destruction of property subject to seizure.

After a trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Defendant on Counts 3, 7, 8, 17, 19, 24 and 25. The jury acquitted the Defendant on all other Counts. Defendant then filed the instant motion for acquittal, challenging his conviction on various grounds. The government has replied to the motion, bringing the case to its present posture.

II. ANALYSIS

Defendant seeks acquittal on each of the Counts on which he was convicted, citing various grounds. The Court will address in turn.

A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c). "A defendant challenging a conviction based on sufficiency grounds bears a heavy burden." United States v. Desena, 260 F.3d 150, 154 (2d Cir. 2001). A Court is required to "uphold a conviction if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" United States v. Bicaksizu, 194 F.3d 390, 398 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979) (emphasis in original)). The Court must "consider the evidence in a light most favorable to the government, ... draw all permissible inferences in the government's favor and... favor the jury's verdict in resolving all issues of credibility." United States v. Singh, 390 F.3d 168, 187 (2d Cir. 2004). The Defendant "bears the burden of demonstrating the inadequacy of the evidence[.]" United States v. Kavoukian, 354 F.3d 117, 120 (2d Cir. 2003). The Court is to "be careful to avoid usurping the role of the jury." United States v. Guadagna, 183 F.3d 122, 129 (2d Cir. 1999). "Rule 29(c) does not provide the trial court with an opportunity to substitute its own determination of... the weight of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn for that of the jury.'" Id . (quoting Curley v. United States, 160 F.2d 229, 232 (D.C. Cir. 1947)).

Much of the evidence presented at trial in this matter was circumstantial. "Circumstantial evidence can be as compelling as direct evidence and a conviction can rest solely on circumstantial evidence." United States v. Glenn, 312 F.3d 58, 70 (2d Cir. 2002). Indeed, "the strength of a particular piece of evidence turns on the specific circumstances that accompany the evidence." Id . Nearly "all evidence must involve an inference from some fact to the proposition to be proved.'" Id . (quoting Henry Wigmore, WIGMORE ON EVIDENCE § 25 (Tillers rev. 1983)). "When making a case based on circumstantial evidence, the government need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than that of guilt.'" Guadagna, 183 F.3d at 130 (quoting Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 139 (1954)). Thus, "the court may enter a judgment of acquittal only if the evidence that the defendant committed the crime alleged is nonexistent or so meager that no reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Id . (quoting United States v. White, 673 F.2d 299, 301 (10th Cir. 1982)). A court is to "consider the evidence in its totality, not in isolation, and the government need not negate every theory of innocence." United States v. Autouori, 212 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 2000).

Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him on Counts 3, 7 and 8 of the indictment. All of those counts relate to violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and conspiracy to violate that section. The indictment alleges that Defendant

did knowingly conduct, and attempt to conduct, financial transactions, namely, the transfer, delivery and disposition of monetary instruments, namely, United States currency, and the transfer of title to vehicles... which financial transactions affected interstate commerce, and which involved the proceeds of specified unlawful activity, namely, the distribution of controlled substances, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 841(a)(1), and conspiracy to do so, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 846, knowing that the transactions were designed in whole and in part to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the proceeds of said specified unlawful activity and to avoid a transaction reporting requirement under Federal law, namely, the transaction reporting requirements as set forth in Title 31, United States Code, Section 5331(a), and the regulations promulgated thereunder, including Title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 103.30, and knowing that the property involved in such financial transactions, namely, the said United States currency, represented the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity.

See dkt. # 1. Count 3 concerned the sale of a 2001 GMC Yukon for $25, 000 on February 27, 2006. Count 7 concerned the sale of a 2002 Chevrolet Suburban for $10, 820 on April 27, 2007. Count 8 concerned the sale of a 2004 Infiniti QX 56 for $34, 455 on June 9, 2007. Defendant contends that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient for a jury to find that the vehicles in question were purchased with drug money or that Defendant knew that the vehicles were purchased using such funds. As such, he insists, his motion for acquittal should be granted.

Section 1956 of Title 18, United States Code, deals with participation in a financial transaction that involves property constituting the proceeds of specified unlawful activity. Section 1956(a)(1)(B) provides that:

Whoever, knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducts or attempts to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact ...

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