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United States v. Arrington

United States District Court, W.D. New York

December 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RODERICK ARRINGTON, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE RICHARD J. ARCARA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case is before the Court on Defendant Roderick Arrington's renewed motion for judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. See Docket No. 265 (Def. Mtn.). The Defendant also moves to dismiss the superseding indictment for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. For the reasons stated below, both motions are denied.

         BACKGROUND

         The Defendant was convicted on eight counts of a twelve-count redacted indictment. Specifically, the Defendant was convicted of (1) racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); (2) narcotics conspiracy, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; (3) using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to the commission of, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of, Counts 1 and 2, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) and § 2; (4) murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1); (5) discharge of a firearm in furtherance of Count 4, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii); (6) discharge of a firearm causing death in furtherance of Count 4, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii) and § 924(j)(1); (7) attempted murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(5); and (8) discharge of a firearm in furtherance of Count 7, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(iii).[1]

         Over the course of a nine-day jury trial, the Government introduced over 100 exhibits and testimony from forty-one witnesses.[2] In brief, the evidence showed that the Defendant was a member of the Schuele Boys, [3] a drug-trafficking organization that operated on and around the area of Schuele Avenue, in Buffalo, New York. The evidence showed that co-defendants Aaron Hicks, Marcel Worthy, and Letorrance Travis operated a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization that purchased hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, as well as marijuana, from co-defendant Julio Contreras in south Texas.[4]

         The evidence did not show that the Defendant personally distributed large quantities of narcotics during the time period that was the focus of the trial-that is, from late 2010 until late 2014.[5] The evidence did show, however, that the Defendant was, in the Government's words (Docket No. 275 at 11), the organization's “muscle.” Specifically, the Government introduced overwhelming evidence that the Defendant murdered Quincy Balance, and attempted to murder Damon Hunter, after members of the Schuele Boys- including the Defendant-came to believe that Balance and Hunter had murdered a Schuele Boys associate several days earlier. The Government also introduced evidence that the Defendant had offered to engage in a similar retaliatory murder after a Schuele Boys associate was robbed of $3, 300 worth of marijuana.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard for judgment of acquittal

         Rule 29 imposes a heavy burden on a defendant challenging his conviction following a jury trial. A 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. In applying these principles, [the Court] review[s] all of the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the government, crediting every inference that the jury might have drawn in favor of the government.” United States v. Facen, 812 F.3d 280, 286 (2d Cir. 2016) (quotation marks and citations omitted). In other words, Rule 29 requires that the Court give significant deference to a jury's findings as to “the weight of the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn” from that evidence. Id. (quotation marks omitted). This means not only that the Court “must credit every inference that could have been drawn in the government's favor, ” but that, in assessing the sufficiency of the evidence, the Court “must view the evidence as a whole.” United States v. Applins, 637 F.3d 59, 76 (2d Cir. 2011). At bottom, “where either of the two results, a reasonable doubt or no reasonable doubt, is fairly possible, the court must let the jury decide the matter.” Facen, 812 F.3d at 286 (quotation marks and brackets omitted). Finally, when a defendant challenges his conviction on a conspiracy charge-as the Defendant does with regard to Counts 1 and 2-“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 can be laid bare in court with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel.” United States v. Wexler, 522 F.3d 194, 207 (2d Cir. 2008) (quotation marks and ellipsis omitted).

         B. The Defendant's arguments for acquittal

         The Defendant first renews his Rule 29 motion as to Count 1, which charged him with being a member of a racketeering conspiracy. The Defendant next renews his Rule 29 motion as to Counts 4 and 7, which charged him, respectively, with murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering. Finally, the Defendant renews his Rule 29 motion as to Count 2, which charged him with being a member of a narcotics conspiracy. The Court addresses each Count in turn.[6]

         1. Count 1 (Racketeering Conspiracy)

         a. The existence of an enterprise

         The Defendant first argues that the Government failed to introduce sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find that an “enterprise” existed, as that term is defined in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq. Specifically, the Defendant argues that “[n]o one testified that there was an ‘enterprise, ' what the enterprise was, who was in fact a member, or what the objectives of the enterprise were.” Def. Mtn. ¶ 5. See also Id. ¶ 7 (“There was no distinct testimony of hierarchy, upward mobility or membership requirements. No one listed who they believed were the Members of the ‘enterprise.'”)

         Count 1, however, did not charge the Defendant with a substantive RICO offense. It instead charged him with conspiring to participate in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering. Unlike a substantive RICO offense, the Government does not need to prove the existence of an “enterprise” to prove a RICO conspiracy. See United States v. Applins, 637 F.3d 59, 75 (2d Cir. 2011) (“We . . . conclude that Salinas [v. United States, 522 U.S. 52 (1997)] counsels that the establishment of an enterprise is not an element of the RICO conspiracy offense.”) The Government must instead prove that the Defendant “intend[ed] to further an endeavor which, if completed, would satisfy all of the elements of a substantive” RICO offense. Salinas, 522 U.S. at 65.

         The Defendant's enterprise-based arguments are relevant to Counts 4 and 7 (murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering), both of which require the Government to prove the existence of an “enterprise.” But because the Government did not need to prove that an “enterprise” existed to convict the Defendant of Count 1, the Defendant's motion for acquittal on that basis is denied.

         b. Racketeering activity

         The Defendant next argues that he should be acquitted of Count 1 because there was insufficient evidence to show “a pattern of ‘[r]acketeering' on [his] part.” Def. Mtn. ¶ 8. This argument misconstrues the nature of RICO conspiracy. It is well settled that, to convict a defendant of RICO conspiracy, “only an agreement to commit two or more predicate acts, rather than the acts themselves, need be proven.” United States v. Persico, 832 F.2d 705, 713 (2d Cir. 1987) (emphasis added). “[I]n deciding whether a defendant is guilty of RICO conspiracy, the jury must consider the predicate acts charged against the defendant and his alleged co-conspirators to determine ‘whether the charged predicate acts were, or were intended to be, committed as part of that conspiracy.'” United States v. Cain, 671 F.3d 271, 291 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Yannotti, 541 F.3d 112, 129 n.11 (2d Cir. 2008)). “Indeed, to secure [the Defendant's] conviction for RICO conspiracy, the [G]overnment [is] not required to prove the actual commission of a single predicate act by [the Defendant] or by any other conspirator.” Yannotti, 541 F.3d at 129.

         Although it did not need to do so to secure a conviction on Count 1, the Government introduced overwhelming evidence that the Defendant personally committed one murder (Quincy Balance) and one attempted murder (Damon Hunter). Moreover, the Government introduced substantial evidence that the racketeering conspiracy was centered around a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization run by the Defendant's co-defendants. The circumstances surrounding each of these crimes, as described more fully below, were sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the acts were, or were intended to be, committed as part of a racketeering conspiracy.

         c. The Defendant's membership in the conspiracy

         The Defendant next argues that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he became a member of a RICO conspiracy. Def. Mtn. ¶ 8.

         “To be guilty of conspiracy, there must be some evidence from which it can reasonably be inferred that the person charged with conspiracy knew of the existence of the scheme alleged in the indictment and knowingly joined and participated in it.” United States v. Snow, 462 F.3d 55, 68 (2d Cir. 2006) (quotation marks omitted). “[T]he government need not prove that a conspirator-defendant agreed with every other conspirator, or knew all the other conspirators, or had full knowledge of all the details of the conspiracy.” United States v. Rastelli, 870 F.2d 822, 828 (2d Cir. 1989). This is true even in a RICO conspiracy: The Government must prove “no more” than that the defendant “kn[e]w the general nature of the enterprise and that the enterprise extends beyond his individual role.” Id. (citations omitted). See also United States v. Zichettello, 208 F.3d 72, 99 (2d Cir. 2000) (same).

         The evidence introduced at trial was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the Defendant knew of, and knowingly joined, a conspiracy to participate in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering. To be sure, the evidence did not show that the Defendant was intimately involved in every aspect of the conspiracy. The evidence did not show, for instance, that the Defendant personally participated in the conspiracy's core racketeering activity of cocaine distribution. But a reasonable jury could have found that the Defendant knew of the “general nature” of the conspiracy, knew that the conspiracy extended beyond his role, and knowingly joined the conspiracy.

         For instance, the Government introduced evidence that the Defendant knew that other Schuele Boys associates were involved in the dangerous business of selling large volumes of narcotics: the Defendant was present when his co-conspirators broke down a forty-pound bale of marijuana, and he offered another Schuele Boys associate a “family price” to retaliate against the person who had robbed the associate of $3, 300 worth of marijuana. Likewise, Spencer Rogers testified that the Defendant often spent ...


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