U.S. v. MEROS No. 85-3774.
866 F.2d 1304 (1989)
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. George N. MEROS, John Frazier, a/k/a J.J., Michael Ferrentino, Linda Deemer Ferrentino, Michael Rubenstein, Achilles Nick Vaseliades, Bernard H. Johnson, Robert English, Albert H. Papolos, Stephen P. Papolos, Robert J. Papolos, Defendants-Appellants.
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
February 13, 1989.
Terry Flynn, Asst. U.S. Atty., Carol Wilkinson, Sp. Atty., Dept. of Justice, Tampa, Fla., for U.S.
Before TJOFLAT, VANCE and COX, Circuit Judges.
Between 1976 and 1984, the appellants in this case participated in a series of attempts to smuggle large quantities of marijuana into the United States from Colombia. The "kingpins" behind these ventures included George Meros, an attorney who supplied financial backing for the ventures, and the Papolos brothers, who organized the distribution of the smuggled marijuana. In addition to financing the smuggling operations, Meros also provided his associates with individual financial assistance, structuring cash transactions so as to avoid the filing of Currency Transaction Reports, and establishing Swiss bank accounts to conceal the profits of the smuggling operations.
After a lengthy trial, the jury found the participants in these ventures guilty of various violations against the anti-racketeering and narcotics laws of the United States.
Appellants John Frazier, Michael Ferrentino, Linda Ferrentino, and Stephen Papolos argue that they are entitled to a new trial on grounds that the prosecutor allegedly violated his obligation to disclose impeaching evidence regarding one of his witnesses and knowingly permitted that witness to testify falsely at trial. The facts pertinent to this claim are as follows.
Alexander Biscuiti, a co-conspirator who had entered into a plea agreement with the Government and had been sentenced to prison by the district court, was the Government's principal witness in support of its claim that appellants imported 80,000 pounds of marijuana from Colombia in July 1981. Prior to trial, appellants moved the court to compel the prosecutor to disclose all information of an impeaching nature regarding Biscuiti and all inducements or promises the Government made to him in return for his testimony. The court ordered the Government to supply the requested information to the extent required by the Supreme Court's holdings in Brady v. Maryland,
Before Biscuiti was called to the stand at trial, appellants learned that Biscuiti was a Government witness in another criminal case, pending in the Northern District of Georgia, and that he had recently been indicted in a drug prosecution in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Appellants' counsel informed the court of these matters and moved the court to compel the Government to make available all information relating to the Georgia and Pennsylvania cases which would tend to impeach Biscuiti in the present case, including any negotiations or deals the Government may have made with him. In response to the court's inquiry, the prosecutor stated that the Government had not entered into any plea agreement with Biscuiti regarding the Atlanta case, and with regard to the Pennsylvania case, he declared:
The court accordingly denied appellants' motion on the grounds that the requested information was not in the Government's possession for purposes of Brady and that the information was known and available to the defense.
At trial, Biscuiti testified that he had voluntarily turned himself in to the authorities upon learning of the existence of a warrant for his arrest. A few days after the conclusion of Biscuiti's testimony and cross-examination, appellants obtained from the court reporter the transcript of Biscuiti's bond reduction hearing, at which the Government had argued that Biscuiti's surrender had been "reluctant." Appellants moved the court to reopen the cross-examination of Biscuiti based on the content of the transcript of the hearing or else to declare a mistrial. The district court denied appellants' motion on the ground that appellants had already conducted an exhaustive four-day cross-examination of Biscuiti which covered every conceivable facet of his life including the circumstances of his surrender upon learning of the warrant for his arrest.
Appellants contend that the prosecutor violated Brady v. Maryland,
In Brady v. Maryland,
With respect to the allegation that the Government suppressed impeaching evidence upon which it based its arguments at Biscuiti's bond reduction hearing, we conclude that appellants have failed to make the requisite showing to establish a violation of Brady. Our review of the transcript of the hearing convinces us that the alleged nondisclosed evidence never existed. Rather, the Government told the court during the hearing that its arguments were based solely on the tape recorded conversation between Biscuiti and Joey Cam — made available to the defense prior to trial — and on the testimony of Special Agent Robert Mazur of the United States Customs Service. That the defense did not promptly obtain from the court reporter the transcript of Mazur's testimony
Appellants' allegations concerning possible plea negotiations between Biscuiti and the Georgia and Pennsylvania authorities similarly fail to meet the requirements of Brady. The district court noted that defense counsel, through conversations with Biscuiti's attorney, had apparently learned more about Biscuiti's involvement in the Georgia and Pennsylvania cases than had the prosecutor. Therefore, no Brady violation could have occurred since defense counsel knew, prior to Biscuiti taking the witness stand, that Biscuiti might have been engaging in plea negotiations with Georgia and Pennsylvania authorities and was in as good a position as the prosecutor to learn more about such negotiations through reasonably diligent efforts. See Valera, 845 F.2d at 927-28.
In addition, the information in question was not, as required by Brady, in the possession of the Government. Brady and its progeny apply to evidence possessed by a district's" `prosecution team,' which includes both investigative and prosecutorial personnel." See United States v. Antone,
When a witness conceals, through false testimony, his bias against the defendant, and the Government knows the witness has testified falsely, the Government has a duty to correct the false statement. See United States v. Rivera Pedin,
Simply put, there has been no violation of Giglio in this case since Biscuiti's testimony that he voluntarily turned himself in was true. Contrary to appellant's contention, the record does not suggest that during Biscuiti's bond reduction hearing the Government argued that Biscuiti was apprehended when he was on the verge of fleeing the state. Rather, the transcript of the bail hearing reveals only that the Government argued that the court should not reduce Biscuiti's bond because he had not turned himself in until several weeks after learning of the warrant for his arrest. The prosecutor obviously has no duty to correct that which is not false. Moreover, even if the transcript of the hearing had demonstrated that Biscuiti lied when he testified at trial that he had turned himself in, such testimony would not have fallen within the aegis of the rule of Giglio and its progeny since the testimony did not
The jury found that appellant Meros structured certain financial transactions to avoid the filing of Currency Transaction Reports (CTR's), which inform the federal government of transactions involving over $10,000. See generally 31 U.S.C. §§ 5311-5322 (1982 & Supp. IV 1986). These transactions were of two types: first, a series of multiple transactions involving amounts under $10,000 made on the same day at different banks that totaled over $10,000 when aggregated; second, a series of multiple transactions involving amounts under $10,000 made on the same day at different branches of a single bank that totaled over $10,000 when aggregated. The United States maintained that such actions violated 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 1001 (1982) and 31 U.S.C. §§ 1081, 1059 (1976) (now codified as amended at 31 U.S.C. §§ 5313(a), 5322(b) (1982 & Supp. IV 1986)).
On appeal, Meros contends that his actions were not illegal for the following reasons. First, Meros argues that the law imposes no duty on customers of financial institutions to ensure that the institution files a CTR; therefore, even if the bank failed in its duties, Meros' actions were not criminal. Second, even if the law did impose such a duty, Meros argues that his actions did not cause the involved institutions to fail to file CTR's. Third, Meros argues that our cases have found such causation only when the customer's actions were fraudulent or deceitful; because his actions were done openly, without any attempt to conceal his identity, Meros argues that he cannot be a proximate cause of the banks' failure to file the CTR's. Finally, Meros argues that he had no notice that his actions were criminal.
In 1981 — the year in which these transactions occurred — the currency laws of the United States provided as follows:
31 U.S.C. § 1059 (1976) (recodified, as amended, at 31 U.S.C. § 5322 (1982 & Supp. IV 1986)).
31 U.S.C. § 1081 (1976) (recodified, as amended, at 31 U.S.C. § 5313 (1982)). Our precedent makes clear that the regulations promulgated pursuant to these provisions, see 31 C.F.R. § 103 (1981), solely regulate financial institutions, not customers of those institutions. See United States v. Tobon-Builes,
Nevertheless, the scope of the criminal liability for violations of these currency laws is wider than the scope of the regulatory scheme. The criminal laws of the United States provide that:
18 U.S.C. § 2 (1982).
18 U.S.C. § 1001 (1982). This circuit has repeatedly recognized that actions by a customer that cause a financial institution to abrogate its duty to file a CTR are criminal, in violation of these provisions. See United States v. Cure,
Count fourteen of the indictment in this case charged Meros with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (1982) by making multiple purchases of cashier's checks under $10,000 at different banks on the same day. Before 1982, title 31 imposed a duty to file CTR's only upon individual financial institutions. Thus, inUnited States v. Denemark,
Meros' other convictions were predicated on a series of transactions in amounts under $10,000 made on the same day at different branches of the Landmark Bank. We are convinced that Meros' actions fall within the scope of criminal liability established by our previous decisions. These decisions clearly hold that a customer can be the proximate cause of a bank's failure to file a CTR, and thus liable. See United States v. Cure,
Appellants Stephen Papolos, Robert English, Michael Ferrentino, and Bernard Johnson were each convicted of violating 21 U.S.C. § 841(a) (1982), which makes it an offense to distribute over 1000 pounds of marijuana. Each appellant was sentenced to terms of incarceration ranging from two to fifteen years, fined various amounts, and given a special parole term of two years.
At the time of appellants' offenses,
21 U.S.C. § 841(b) (1982). Appellants contend that since their offense is controlled by the penalties imposed by section 841(b)(6), they are not subject to the two-year parole term imposed by section 841(b)(1)(B). The United States vehemently disagrees, arguing that such an interpretation would have the anomalous result that the two year parole term would affect only small-time traffickers, while the kingpins would escape the penalty.
Congress amended 21 U.S.C. § 841(b) in 1980 to add section (b)(6). See Infant Formula Act of 1980, Pub.L. No. 96-359, § 8(c), 94 Stat. 1190, 1194. The legislative history accompanying the amendment indicates that Congress intended to increase the penalties for offenses involving large amounts of marijuana in order to deter large scale trafficking. Significantly, the legislative history does not mention the special parole term, although the other possible penalties are discussed. See S.Rep. No. 916, 96th Cong., 2d Sess. 14, reprinted in 1980 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 2858, 2871; H.R.Rep. No. 936, 96th Cong., 2d Sess. 13 (1980).
When interpreting a criminal statute, the "rule of lenity" requires strict construction. See United States v. Rojas,
In conclusion, the conviction of appellant Meros under count fourteen is reversed. In addition, we vacate the sentences imposed on appellants Stephen Papolos, Robert English, Michael Ferrentino, and Bernard Johnson under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(6). In all other respects, the appellants' convictions are affirmed.
AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED IN PART; AND VACATED AND REMANDED IN PART.
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