Articles Posted in Federal Trial Issues

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Caniff was convicted of attempting to entice a minor to engage in illegal sexual conduct, with advertising for child pornography and attempted production of child pornography. The underlying facts began with an F.B.I. agent posing as a thirteen-year-old girl on Whisper, and online website and cellphone application that allows users to text or communicate anonymously with other users. The terms of Whisper’s use provide that individuals who use Whisper must be at least 13 years of age and users between the ages of 13 and 18 must be supervised by a parent.

The agent posted a photo of another agent that was age regressed to make the person look childlike posted a message from “Mandy” the purported 13-year-old. Caniff, a 32-year-old pharmacy technician responded to Mandy and after a series of text exchanges he sent several pictures of his penis and asked her for pictures of her genitalia and of her masturbating. Eventually Mandy agreed to have sex with Caniff. When he arrived at the location they were supposed to meet, he was arrested. After Caniff waived his right to remain silent, pursuant to the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, he agreed to talk to the officers without an attorney present and said he though Mandy was 18 and she was role playing.

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The three plaintiff’s in Paez v Mulvey case were police officers of the Golden Beach, Florida police department were arrested in 2011 on various charges of public corruption. The criminal accusations alleged that these officers fraudulently failed to report off-duty police work that would have required them to pay administrative fees to the department. The allegations in the probable cause affidavit claimed the officers were paid simultaneously by the department for work performed at the same time they were billing for off-duty work. The affidavit also claimed the officers submitted fewer hours for off-duty work than they were actually paid in order to avoid paying the town of Golden Beach a five-dollar-per-hour administrative fee for off-duty work to cover costs like insurance and the use of police vehicles.

The criminal charges against the officers were eventually dropped by the State Attorney’s Office and the case was dismissed in 2014. The officers then sued the four Miami-Dade investigators who were assigned to investigate the alleged misconduct at the Golden Beach police department and who submitted probable cause affidavits to a judge sitting the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County that led to the issuance of arrest warrants for the officers.

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Munksgard applied for a line of credit at a small bank operating in a few counties in west central Florida. To support his application, he submitted a surveying contract with a company Cal-Maine foods showing the signature of a Cal-Maine employee, Kyle Morris. The contract was fraudulent and Munksgard signed Morris’s’ name without knowledge or permission. He made multiple fraudulent applications for lines of credit by supporting the applications with fraudulent contracts signed by fictional employees. Munksgard was indicted on four counts of knowingly making a false statement in order to obtain a loan from an FDIC-insured bank in violation of 18 USC section 1014 and one count of aggravated identity theft for placing Morris’ signature on the Cal-Main Foods contract in violation of 18 USC section 1028A.

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Inmates at the Autry state Prison had a phone scam in which they would masquerade as law-enforcement or court officials and dupe their victims into paying them for fake infractions. Victims paid money to the inmates in the form of Green Dot numbers. Green Dot corporation sells debit cards that can be reloaded by purchasing a MoneyPak at the store’s checkout counter. Inmates possessed theses Green Dot debit cards but were not allowed to possess them in the prison so they possessed the numbers on pieces of paper and hid the papers in their cell until they could load the money. The succeeded for one inmate who collected over $15,000.

Paul Harris was a corrections officer at Autry state Prison when he discovered the scam. He worked on the shakedown team that conducted surprise search of the cell of an inmate. He began to find the Green Dot numbers and learned how the inmates obtained them and that they were worth money. Instead of turning the numbers over to supervisors, Harris loaded the money onto his Green Dot cards. Meanwhile the inmate’s scam continued. After the complaints about the scam and the FBI began to investigate, the Green Dot accounts showed that the amount Harris loaded on his Green Dote card exceeded his income. When confronted he eventually confessed.

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Brewster appealed from his denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus in which he claimed his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to move for a mistrial as any point during the deadlocked jury deliberations. In the decision issued in Brewster v Heztel, the Eleventh circuit court of appeals agreed and reversed his Alabama state court conviction.

Brewster was tried on two counts of armed robbery. On the second day of Brewster’s trial the case went to the jury. During the course of the deliberation the jury reported being deadlocked five times, once on the first day and four times on the second. The firmness of the deadlock increased as deliberations continued. The first note reported the split was 9 to 3. When asked by the judge whether there was any way the case would be resolved with a unanimous jury the foremen answered no. The second note reported that the jury could not reach a unanimous decision and that one juror had decided not guilty and that no amount of time was going to sway them. A third note reported that all jurors have decided firmly eleven guilty and one not guilty with no possibility of resolve. The fourth note said the holdout was unwilling to discuss the case. The fifth note informed the judge that the holdout was refusing to discuss the case and was doing crossword puzzles instead.

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Stephon Williams was convicted of federal charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846 following a jury trial in a Georgia federal court. Williams was charged with conspiring with his codefendant Donterius Toombs who also went trial with Williams. The government called a witness named Bennet to testify at their trial.

At the time of this trial Bennet was appealing his drug conviction by challenging his sentence enhancement for an obstruction of justice for sending a letter to Toombs, Williams’ coconspirator, asking him to cooperate on Bennett’s in exchange for a substantial payment and to market a cooperation-for-hire scheme to inmates seeking sentence reductions. The attorney representing Williams at his trial was also representing Bennet on his sentence enhancement challenge in the Eleventh Circuit court of appeals.

In his testimony Bennet did not mention Williams by name but he supported the government’s case against both Williams and Toombs by directly describing and by corroborating other witnesses’ testimony concerning the drug distribution conspiracy alleged in the indictment. In his direct examination, Bennet made no mention of his letter to Mr. Toombs or how he had received and obstruction of justice enhancement at sentencing. Toombs’ counsel cross-examined Bennet but did not bring up the topic. Williams’ counsel asked no questions when it came to his turn on cross examination.

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Elbeblawy was convicted and sentenced in Miami, Florida, for conspiracy to commit health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349. His offense arose from his ownership and management of home health agencies that provided in-home medical nursing and other services to homebound patients which he used to defraud Medicare for millions of dollars. His fraud included billing Medicare for services that were never provided, paying doctors in case for referring patients, hiring patient recruiters and nurses for referrals. He would disguise check by inflating the rates paid for staffing services and described checks to patient recruiters as payments for consulting and other services.

After an investigation focused on Elbeblawy, he decided to cooperate with the government and helped investigators obtain evidence against his former conspirators. He signed a plea agreement and a written factual basis for the agreement. The agreement stated that the government would be free to use against him in any criminal proceedings any of the statement provided by him including the factual basis for the plea. After he signed the agreement, he changed his mind and refused to plead guilty and the government prosecuted him for the charges he was indicted. Prior to trial Elbeblawy filed a motion to suppress the signed factual basis for the plea agreement on the ground that he did not knowingly and voluntarily waive the Rule 11 and Rule 410 protections. The district court denied his motion.

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Wenxia Man appealed her conviction and sentence for conspiracy to export defense articles without a license in violation of the Arms Control Export Act 22 U.S.C. 2778. The conviction arose from her participation in a series of discussion with Xingsheng Zhang, a Chinese operative, and an undercover agent with the Department of Homeland Security, Jerry Liu, about how to purchase and export to china military aircraft engines, a military drone, and related technical data. Although the sale never occurred the United States charged Man with conspiring to violate the Act. In her appeal she challenged her conviction on the grounds that the evidence against her was insufficient to establish a conspiracy and that she was entrapped.

In arguing the government failed to prove that she conspired to violate the Act she first argued that she never entered into a conspiratorial agreement with Zhang or anyone else to obtain purchase or export defense articles. She contended that proposals made by Liu were rejected by Zhang and the parties never advanced beyond mere discussion or ever finalizing an agreement. At best, she argued, it showed that she and Zhang agree to submit inquiries about products and negotiate an agreement but did not have an agreement. The court of appeals rejected this argument finding that Man and Zhang agreed to export unlawfully the items charged in the indictment and that this agreement was not wholly conditioned on Liu’s participation. It found the record supported the reasonable inference that Man and Zhang reached an independent agreement to acquire the engines and drones from any available source and that the duo would have maintained a partnership or joint venture in addition to the one that they proposed to Liu.

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Mitrovic appealed his conviction for unlawful procurement of naturalization in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1425(b) and 8 U.S.C. 1451(e) that arose from charges against him for concealing from immigration authorities his work as a Serbian prison camp guard. When Mitrovic applied for Unites States citizenship, he stated that he had never persecuted anyone on account of their race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. It was eventually discovered that he served as guard who beat prisoners at the Trnopolje prison camp run by the Serbians during their campaign of ethnic cleansing waged against the Bosniak Muslims and other ethnic groups. The government charged Mitrovic with making false statements in his citizenship application.

Prior to trial, his attorney filed motions to depose witnesses in Bosnia who had been in the Trnopolje prison camp. However, upon his defense team’s arrival in Bosnia, they learned that several witnesses refused to be deposed. Most of the witnesses who refused to be deposed had been in the Trnopolje prison camp for longer than those where sere deposed and had originally told Mitrovic’s defense team that they never saw Mitrovich as a guard at the camp. Upon returning to the United States Mitrovic filed a motion to allow the investigator who interviewed the recalcitrant witnesses to testify to what the witnesses said during their initial interviews: that they had been in the camp for an extended period and never saw Mitrovic. He argued that statements should be excepted from the hearsay rule or alternatively the statements should be admissible because not allowing the statements would deprive Mitrovic of his constitutional right to present a complete defense citing Chambers v. Mississippi.

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Knowles appealed her convictions for the use of an unauthorized access devise and for aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1029 and 1028. She was arrested following a traffic stop in which the car she was a passenger in was stopped for having illegally tinted windows. The officer stopping the car was with agent Tippens of the Department of Labor who was part of a task force investigating identity theft and other crimes. Because the driver was on probation for a state fraud offense, the officer asked for and received consent to search the car. He found four Publix Supermarket money orders each for $500 and money order receipts, along with $1,000 in cash in a compartment. Knowles claimed they were all bought with cash.

Tippens later obtained the surveillance videos from the Publix store where the money order were purchased and matched the purchases shown on the video with the dates times and store numbers reflected on the money order and money order receipts found in the car. The money orders were purchased with prepaid debit cards which were obtained under the names and social security number of two individuals whose identities had been stolen. As a result Knowles was charged.

At the trial the government elicited testimony from Tippens who identified Knowles as the person in the Publix surveillance videos who purchased the money orders with the prepaid debit cards. He based his opinion on his frame-by-frame review of the surveillance videos, his comparison of the individual in the videos to photographs of Knowles and his 20 minute interaction with Knowles during the traffic stop.

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