United States District Court, S.D. New York
Lillane G. Mair, Gerhardt Mair & Associates, P.C., Brooklyn, NY 11201, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Damond Jamal Carter, Damond J. Carter, PLLC(2nd), Albany, NY 12203, Email: email@example.com.
Santosh Shankaran Aravind, U.S. Attorney's Office, SDNY (St Andw's), New York, NY,
OPINION & ORDER
LORETTA A. PRESKA, Chief District Judge..
After the death of his ex-wife, Allen Blake ("Blake") filed an insurance claim for a $10, 000 death benefit in which he falsely represented that he remained married to the deceased. Blake was charged and convicted of federal mail fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1341 and § 1342, and now seeks a writ of error coram nobis to vacate his conviction. Blake contends, inter alia, that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that New York state insurance law entitled Blake to the death benefit, notwithstanding the fact that Blake obtained the death benefit by misrepresenting his marital status. For the reasons set forth below, Blake's petition is denied.
From 2006 to November 20, 2009, Blake was a Correctional Officer employed by the City of New York Department of Corrections and a board member of the Correction Officer's Benevolent Association ("COBA"). As part of his union contract with COBA, Blake was entitled to death benefits with Prudential Life Insurance Company of America ("Prudential") in the event of the death of his lawful spouse. (Trial Transcript ("Tr.") at 307, 332.) In May 2008, Blake filed for divorce from his estranged wife, Pearl Blake. (Gov't's Trial Ex. 7.) On June 23, 2009, the divorce was granted. (Id.) Three months later, on September 29, 2009, Pearl Blake died. (Gov't's Trial Ex. 12; Tr. at 332.)
On October 23, 2009, Blake submitted a claim to Prudential for a $10, 000 death benefit for Pearl Blake's death, listing his relationship to the deceased as "husband." (Gov't's Trial Ex. 3; Tr. at 322.) On or about November 17, 2009, Blake received $10, 000 on the policy from Prudential. (Tr. at 328-29.) Shortly thereafter, COBA board members learned about Blake's divorce. (Id. at 332-35.) At an emergency COBA Board meeting on November 20, 2009, Norman Seabrook ("Seabrook"), the President of COBA, confronted Blake and asked him to "[e]xplain... how this death benefit [claim] is put in and you don't have the [supporting] documents." (Id. at 592.) Blake "just shook his head." (Id. at 593-94.) Seabrook demanded and received Blake's resignation that same day. (Id.) On or about November 25, 2009, Blake returned to Prudential the $10, 000 he received on the policy. (Tr. at 410-11, 423-27.)
On April 20, 2010, Blake was indicted for mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341 and § 1342 for devising a scheme to defraud an insurance company of life insurance benefits to which he was not entitled and in which the United States Postal Service ("U.S.P.S.") was used. (Indictment 4/20/10.) The critical issue at trial was whether Blake knew that his divorce had been finalized on or before October 23, 2009, the date he submitted his claim for death benefits. See United States v. Blake, No. 10 CR 349 (RPP), 2010 WL 3184487, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2010). At trial, the Government presented documentary evidence and witness testimony supporting its position that Blake intentionally and knowingly submitted a false life insurance claim on behalf of the deceased Pearl Blake.
The Government's evidence included: (1) a copy of Blake's divorce judgment signed by the county clerk on June 23, 2009 and filed with the New York County Clerk's Office on July 7, 2009, (Gov't's Trial Ex. 4); (2) COBA mail logs registering receipt of a letter from Koehler & Isaacs ("K&I"), the law firm that handled Blake's divorce, to Blake at his COBA office on July 23, 2009, (Gov't's Trial Ex. 9); and (3) an opened envelope addressed to Blake bearing a barcode consistent with processing through the U.S.P.S., and a letter addressed to Blake from K&I paralegal Claudia Tejada ("Tejada"), dated July 21, 2009, confirming the finalization of Blake's divorce. (Gov't's Trial Ex. 6.)
At trial, Tejada testified that on July 13, 2009 she called Blake and "told him that... his divorce was signed." (Tr. at 508.) She also testified that on July 21, 2009, she mailed to Blake, via the U.S.P.S., a letter confirming his divorce and a copy of the divorce judgment in a K&I envelope. (Id. at 510-11, 519; Gov't's Trial Ex. 6.) Tejada further testified that the divorce judgment was dated July 7, 2009, "the date that it was actually filed in the [office of the] county clerk." (Tr. at 514.) The parties stipulated that the divorce judgment was "an official public record of the judgment of divorce" and that it was admitted into evidence without objection. (Id. at 513; Gov't's Trial Ex. 4.)
Joseph Bracco ("Bracco"), a member of the COBA Executive Board, testified that on or about September 29, 2009, the day of Pearl Blake's death, Blake told him that "it was messed up that he couldn't collect on the life insurance policy because... he had just recently became [sic] divorced in July" and that Blake asked him whether "there was a grace period" on the policy, to which Bracco replied there was not. (Tr. at 438.) Thomas Farrell, a COBA Board Member, testified that in September 2009, Blake told him that he was going to South Carolina for his "exwife's funeral" and that "[if] the bitch or broad would have died a couple of months earlier, [he] would have gotten the money." (Id. at 652-55.) Seabrook testified that Blake said his "exwife [sic] [had] died" sometime in September 2009. (Id., at 589.) Seabrook also testified that when Blake was confronted at the November 20, 2009 COBA Board meeting, "[Blake] looked at me and he said, I fucked up.'" (Id. at 593.)
Elias Husamudeen ("Husamudeen"), the First-Vice President of COBA, testified that as he was cleaning Blake's former office at COBA on a weekend in February 2010 (approximately three months after Blake's resignation), he found an opened envelope and enclosed letter addressed to Blake, dated July 21, 2009, confirming the finalization of Blake's divorce. (Id. at 538; Gov't's Trial Ex. 6.) Husamudeen further testified that the letter had been received and logged in the COBA system on July 23, 2009. (Tr. at 542; Gov't's Trial Ex. 9.) Elizabeth Castro ("Castro"), the Third-Vice President of COBA, testified that she discovered a receipt of the claim Blake submitted to Prudential and that the claim contained a representation that Blake was married to Pearl Blake, when, in fact, the two were divorced. (Tr. at 309-25, 329-33; Gov't's Trial Ex. 2.)
Blake was represented at trial by attorney Anthony Ricco ("Ricco" or "trial counsel"). Blake did not testify but presented the testimony of one witness, investigator Jacqueline Maquine ("Maquine") of the New York City Department of Investigations, and introduced one set of documents into evidence. Maquien testified that she conducted an interview with Bracco in December 2009 and that she memorialized that interview in a written report. (Tr. at 712-15.) This report contained information which was somewhat inconsistent with Bracco's trial testimony. (Id.) The set of documents consisted of a file maintained by Prudential relating to Blake's claim (the "Prudential file"). (Id. at 731, 745; Blake Trial Ex. A.) The Prudential file was admitted into evidence over the Government's objection, and included a copy of the divorce judgment filed in the County ...