U.S. v. BOHUCHOT No. 08-11090.
625 F.3d 892 (2010)
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Ruben B. BOHUCHOT and Frankie Logyang Wong, Defendants-Appellants.
United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.
November 9, 2010.
Jerry V. Beard, Asst Fed. Pub. Def. (argued), Fort Worth, TX, for Bohuchot.
Before SMITH, CLEMENT and OWEN, Circuit Judges.
OWEN, Circuit Judge:
Ruben B. Bohuchot and Frankie Logyang Wong were convicted of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments in connection with computer and technology contracts awarded by the Dallas Independent School District and programs that received federal funds. Bohuchot and Wong challenge these convictions and their respective sentences. We affirm the convictions and sentences.
Ruben Bohuchot and Frankie Wong were charged in a multi-count indictment for offenses relating to the award of computer technology contracts by the Dallas Independent School District (DISD). At the time of the indictment, Bohuchot was DISD's chief technology officer. Wong was the president and co-owner of Micro Systems Engineering, Inc. (MSE), a computer reseller that contracted with larger companies to resell and maintain computer hardware.
Two contracts were at the center of the government's bribery and conspiracy allegations. The first was for a technology program called Seats Management, which provided computers, related services, and support for schools within the district. DISD awarded this contract, calling for payments totaling approximately $18 million, to a partnership between Hewlett-Packard (HP) and MSE in September 2002. MSE received at least $4,674,303 for its participation in the partnership. The second contract involved E-Rate, a federal program that provides money and technology to school districts that subsidize student lunches. DISD awarded this contract, contemplating payments of over $115 million, in December 2003 to a group of 13 companies called the Consortium, which included HP, Novell, and MSE. More than $35 million was paid to MSE on behalf of the Consortium between May 2003 and July 2005 for MSE's participation.
DISD used Requests for Proposals (RFP) to inform potential bidders of the scope, location, and requirements for its major technology projects. To insure fairness
Wong and Bohuchot were convicted of violating and conspiring
We first consider the argument that the proof offered at trial by the government and the jury charge submitted by the district court permitted the jury to convict Wong and Bohuchot on theories that were not alleged in the indictment, thereby impermissibly constructively amending the indictment. The defendants rely on the Supreme Court's seminal decision in Stirone v. United States, in which the indictment alleged that Stirone had unlawfully interfered with interstate commerce in sand.
The indictment presently at issue alleged that Bohuchot provided and Wong received non-public information relating to the Seats Management contract before the information was provided to other vendors who were competing with MSE, which assisted MSE in submitting the winning bid, and that Bohuchot signed documents authorizing DISD to enter into contracts benefitting MSE. The indictment also alleged that approximately six months before the Seats Management RFP was published for bidding, Bohuchot represented that a former employee of DISD, William Coleman, was then an employee of DISD when in fact he was a consultant for MSE.
Wong and Bohuchot contend that the government's theory of the case shifted during trial and that it urged the jury to convict the defendants on grounds that differed from those set forth in the indictment. The allegedly new grounds include theories that Wong bribed Bohuchot to (1) manipulate the flow of information to the DISD board of trustees, (2) select individuals who would be favorable to MSE to serve on committees that would evaluate the competing bids on the two contracts, (3) influence or pressure those committees, (4) create favorable scoring matrixes or tamper with the scores for evaluating the competing bids, (5) improperly influence contract negotiations, and (6) rush the RFP process.
The defendants failed to object to any of the evidence or arguments by the prosecution that they now urge constructively amended the indictment. They contend, however, that they preserved their contentions by objecting to the district court's proposed instructions to the jury. The defendants point to the objections they lodged to the definition of "corruptly." The defendants argued to the district court that "[i]n light of the evidence that has developed," the jury instruction should have defined "corruptly" as "intent to receive a specific benefit in return for a payment. And incorporated in that is the intent of the specific quid pro quo required for bribery and under 201 Section 18, 201 concerning bribery under 18 U.S.Code Section 666." The defendants were referring to 18 U.S.C. § 201, regarding bribery of public officials, and were arguing that the same intent requirement for that offense is required under 18 U.S.C. § 666, the statute the defendants were charged with violating. During this colloquy with the court, Wong and Bohuchot also cited the Fourth Circuit's decision in United States v. Jennings for the proposition that "corrupt intent" is "the intent to engage in `some more or less specific quid pro quo.'"
Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Olano,
As the Supreme Court has often noted, there are four prongs to a plain error analysis.
The defendants acknowledge that the government's presentation of its case during opening statements remained within the confines of the indictment. It was during the presentation of government witnesses, the defendants claim, that the government began to assert other theories upon which the jury could find Wong and Bohuchot guilty. The record, however, reflects that it was the defendants who first broached many of the facts that they now say should not have been before the jury.
In opening statements, the defendants argued that Bohuchot did not have the authority to bind DISD to any contracts and was not a member of either the DISD board or the committees selected to evaluate the bids on the two contracts. The defendants also asserted in opening statements that Bohuchot did not attempt to influence the evaluation committees. The defendants continued to develop this strategy in cross-examining government witnesses. For example, the government did not go beyond the facts set forth in the indictment in the direct examination of Larry Groppel, who was the deputy superintendent for business services at DISD when the contracts were awarded. It was on cross-examination that the defendants elicited that the bids were opened by the purchasing department, that that department chose who would be on the committees scoring the bids, and that Bohuchot's department "left the evaluation committees alone" to do their work.
Similarly, on cross-examination of another witness, Roland Taylor, the defendants emphasized that Bohuchot was not a member of the bid evaluation committees, and that there were no records that he was present when these committees were doing their work. On redirect of this witness, the government elicited that it was probably Bohuchot who determined how many points would be awarded in each category of scoring that was to be used in evaluating the bids and that Bohuchot chose the evaluation committee members.
In its direct examination of other witnesses, the government hewed to the indictment, developing in some detail how Wong and those with whom he associated were able to use nonpublic information to structure a winning bid. For example, through Blair Thomas, the director of sales and operations for MSE, the government offered evidence that, long before the RFP for the Seats Management contract was made public, Bohuchot gave Thomas information that "value adds," meaning things of value to DISD outside the specifications of the RFP, would be important and how the "value adds" would be weighted in the evaluation process. Bohuchot also discussed financing with Thomas, and Thomas knew well in advance of the RFP's dissemination that bidding firms would be required to have a net worth of at least $1 billion. MSE did not meet that requirement, and receipt of this early information gave MSE time to associate with another company that had the requisite financial strength. In a meeting that occurred in Key West, days before the RFP was publicly released, Thomas was given a copy of the RFP by Bohuchot. Thomas handed it to Wong. Wong then told Thomas that Wong and Bohuchot needed to meet and that Thomas did not need to be present.
The government did not go beyond the facts set forth in the indictment during its initial closing argument to the jury. Counsel for Bohuchot made numerous points in response and briefly argued to the jury that his client did not receive the bids for the two contracts and that Taylor chaired the bid selection committee, of which Bohuchot was not a member. He
We will assume, without deciding, that there was a constructive amendment of the indictment. We cannot conclude, however, that any such error affected the defendants' substantial rights, that is, that it affected the outcome of the district court proceedings.
In any event, we decline to exercise our discretion to correct any error that may exist regarding a constructive amendment of the indictment. Any such error did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings.
Wong and Bohuchot argue that they are entitled to rendition of judgment in their favor, contending that the evidence was insufficient to prove the charges for which they were indicted. Our review is to determine if "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt."
With regard to the Seats Management contract, we have set forth above the considerable evidence that supports the jury's findings of guilt. The evidence was sufficient to support the convictions that pertain to the Seats Management contract.
With regard to the E-rate contract, the government concedes that it presented no direct evidence that Bohuchot assisted Wong in submitting the successful bid or otherwise influencing the contracting process. However, as set forth above, there was considerable evidence that Wong provided money and other things of considerable value to Bohuchot after the E-rate contract was awarded. A rational juror could infer from this circumstantial evidence and the evidence regarding the Seats Management contract that Bohuchot accepted or solicited the remuneration from Wong as part of an ongoing scheme as alleged in the indictment.
Wong asserts that the prosecutor impermissibly commented on Wong's decision to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at trial. Generally, we review such a contention de novo.
During closing arguments, the prosecutor remarked:
Wong contends that there is no reasonable way to interpret the prosecution's argument other than: "Our witnesses testified; Mr. Wong did not." The government responds that the prosecutor could not possibly have been referring to Wong's failure to testify because the reference to "the other two sitting here" was to Wong and Bohuchot, and Bohuchot testified. The prosecutor was arguing, the government contends, that two of the four men in the van in Florida testified that the RFP for the Seats Management contract was displayed in the van and the other two deny this occurred (in the case of Wong, through arguments of his counsel, and in Bohuchot's case, through his own testimony as well as arguments of counsel). We agree with the government that, in context, this is a plausible explanation of the prosecutor's statement.
Even if the prosecutor's comments were improper, they were not sufficiently prejudicial to "cast serious doubt on the correctness of the jury's verdict."
Reversal and remand is required, Wong and Bohuchot assert, because the district court's jury instructions lowered the mens rea for conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment
Wong and Bohuchot assert that although the indictment correctly alleged the required mens rea, the jury instructions can be read in two erroneous ways. They argue that the instruction required that the defendants knowingly used funds but that it had no mens rea requirement at all regarding promoting or concealing. Alternatively, they argue that the instruction required that the defendants knowingly used funds and knowingly promoted or concealed. This, they say, lowered the mens rea from "intentional" to "knowing."
The defendants did not object in the district court on either of these grounds. Our review, therefore, is for plain error.
The jury found that there was an agreement regarding unlawful proceeds. In light of that finding and the considerable and strong evidence of the intentional and knowing nature of Wong and Bohuchot's agreement and conduct, no jury could reasonably fail to make the requisite findings regarding the applicable mens rea. There was evidence that Wong funneled proceeds from MSE's participation in the DISD contracts to a company, Statewide Marketing, owned by the same three individuals who owned MSE. Statewide Marketing owned the yachts and paid for all the bills associated with them. There was also evidence that Wong hired Bohuchot's son-in-law, who received two paychecks. Bohuchot told his son-in-law that he would continue to receive checks even if his employment with MSE ended, and Bohuchot instructed his son-in-law to pay part of the proceeds from his second check each month to Bohuchot. These payments to Bohuchot amounted to $50,000 per year. We will not lengthen this opinion by detailing all of the additional evidence of money laundering. Suffice it to say that the jury believed that there was an agreement to launder money and there was overwhelming evidence to support that finding. It follows that there was no plain error.
Bohuchot and Wong further contend that the district court committed error in calculating the "value" of the bribe for sentencing purposes under U.S.S.G. § 2C1.1(b)(2), which provides for increasing the offense level according to the value of the bribe.
"The amount of benefit to be received is a fact finding issue that is reviewed for clear error."
Nevertheless, we conclude that because Bohuchot did not have the legal right to sell or otherwise transfer any interest in the boats in question, Bohuchot could not be found to enjoy an "ownership" interest for the purposes of calculating the amount of a benefit received under U.S.S.G. § 2C1.1(b)(2). Bohuchot did not receive the market value of the yachts, only the value attributable to his use of the yachts. However, the district court's use of the yachts' market value in calculating Bohuchot's sentence was harmless.
The district court applied a 14-level increase under section 2B1.1(b)(1) of the Sentencing Guidelines. That increase applies when the value of the bribe is greater than $400,000 but less than $1,000,000. The district court estimated that the value of payments and benefits to Bohuchot unrelated to the yachts was $278,243. Accordingly, if the value of the use of the boats was more than $121,757, the 14-level enhancement would still have applied. The defendants contend that the value of the use of the yachts was from $1500 to $2500 per day for the first yacht and $2500 to $3500 per day for the second. If Bohuchot used the less expensive yacht for approximately 49 days at a value of $2500 per day, the value to him would have exceeded $121,757, and there was evidence that he used the yachts for more than 49 days. The defendants have failed to establish harmful error in the district court's application of the 14-level increase.
With regard to sentencing, the defendants also assert that the district court erred in finding more than one bribe and adding two levels under U.S.S.G. § 2C1.1(b)(1). The district court reasoned that the counts of conviction support finding more than one bribe. There was evidence that proceeds MSE received from both the Seats Management contract and the E-Rate contract were shared with Bohuchot. The district court's application of the two-level increase was not clearly erroneous.
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The convictions and sentences are AFFIRMED.
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