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United States v. John

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
CHRISTIAN JOHN and MARVIN JOHNSON, Defendants.

          For the Government: KELLY T. CURRIE Acting United States Attorney Eastern District of New York by CELIA A. COHEN SOUMYA DAYANANDA ROBERT T. POLEMENI Assistant United States Attorneys

          For Defendant Christian John: EPHRAIM SAVITT NATASHA D. MAROSI.

          For Defendant Marvin Johnson: JOHN F. KALEY, Doar Rieck & Mack, RICHARD JASPER, YING STAFFORD.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          FREDERIC BLOCK, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         After a 17-day jury trial, Christian John was convicted of racketeering; racketeering conspiracy; drug distribution conspiracy; robbery; robbery conspiracy; murder-for-hire conspiracy; charges relating to the murder of five individuals, the attempted murder of a sixth and an assault on a seventh; and possession and use of a firearm in connection with various other crimes. His co-defendant, Marvin Johnson, was acquitted of the racketeering and racketeering conspiracy charges, but convicted of participation in the drug distribution conspiracy, robbery conspiracy, use of a firearm in connection with those conspiracies, and participation in one of the murders.

         Both defendants now move for judgments of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 and, in the alternative, new trials pursuant to Rule 33. For the following reasons, the motions are denied.

         I. John's Motions

         A. Judgment of Acquittal

         “A Rule 29 motion should be granted only if the district court concludes there is ‘no evidence upon which a reasonable mind might fairly conclude guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'” United States v. Irving, 452 F.3d 110, 117 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Taylor, 464 F.2d 240, 243 (2d Cir. 1972)). The defendant “carries a heavy burden, and must show that when viewing the evidence in its totality, in a light most favorable to the government, and drawing all inferences in favor of the prosecution, no rational trier of fact could have found him guilty.” Id. (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)).

         John's challenge to the verdict centers on the alleged enterprise, the “Hull Street Crew.” He argues that the government failed to prove (1) that the enterprise existed, (2) that it engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, or (3) that any of the murders and other violent crimes he was convicted of were committed to maintain or increase a position in it.[1]

         1. Existence of the Enterprise

         A RICO “enterprise” is “ a group of persons associated together for a common purpose of engaging in a course of conduct.” United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576, 583 (1981). Its existence is proven “by evidence of an ongoing organization, formal or informal, and by evidence that the various associates function as a continuing unit.” Id. Although an enterprise must have a structure, it need not be a “business-like entity” with a hierarchical chain-of-command or fixed roles for its members. See Boyle v. United States, 556 U.S. 938, 945, 948 (2009).

         It is undisputed that the Court's jury instructions correctly defined “enterprise.” There was, moreover, ample evidence to support the jury's conclusion that the “Hull Street Crew” fit that definition. Several witnesses testified that John recruited others and gave them orders to sell marijuana and cocaine. He also planned and directed others to assault and murder those whom he perceived as rivals or threats to his ventures. His confederates obeyed these orders. This structure persisted over a number of years.

         John objects that the gang was nothing more than a collection of “independent street operators, ” John's Mem. of Law 17, most of whom had spent their lives engaged in criminal activity, and some of whom did not work with John until many years after the enterprise was allegedly created. He also notes that they committed crimes against each other as often as they worked together; for example, John was convicted of planning to murder Johnson and of beating up another alleged member of the enterprise, Michael Farmer.

         John concedes, however, that the group “at times banded together i n a c o m m o n venture.” Id. Neither independent side projects nor shifting loyalties are mutually exclusive with the existence of an enterprise. The Second Circuit has been clear that an enterprise “may continue to exist even though it undergoes changes in membership, ” United States v. Eppolito, 543 F.3d 25, 49 (2d Cir. 2008), and that a ‚Äúperiod of quiescence in an ...


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