U.S. v. MANZO No. 10-2489.
636 F.3d 56 (2011)
UNITED STATES of America, Appellant v. Louis MANZO; Ronald Manzo.
United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
Filed: February 17, 2011.
Samuel R. DeLuca, Esq., George T. Taite, Esq., DeLuca & Taite, Jersey City, NJ, for Appellee, Ronald Manzo.
Before: RENDELL, AMBRO and FISHER, Circuit Judges.
OPINION OF THE COURT
FISHER, Circuit Judge.
Defendants Louis Manzo ("Louis") and Ronald Manzo ("Ronald") were indicted as the result of a federal investigation into public corruption and money laundering in Hudson County, New Jersey. They were charged with, inter alia, conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (the "Hobbs Act") and attempted extortion under color of official right in violation of the Hobbs Act. The District Court dismissed the conspiracy and attempt charges because it concluded that neither Louis, an unsuccessful mayoral candidate, nor Ronald, his brother and campaign manager, acted "under color of official right." On appeal, the government argues that the conduct is within the scope of the Hobbs Act based on the principles underlying the inchoate crimes of attempt and conspiracy. For the reasons stated herein, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court. Specifically, we hold that acting "under color of official right" is a required element of an extortion Hobbs Act offense, inchoate or substantive, when that offense does not involve threatened force, violence or fear.
The parties are in basic agreement on the facts. In May 2006, Solomen Dwek was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") on bank fraud charges. He subsequently agreed to become a cooperating witness for the FBI, assisting with an investigation into public corruption. In that role, Dwek posed as a real estate developer who was looking for assistance expediting his development projects through local government processes. Dwek surreptitiously recorded many of the meetings he attended. The investigation, dubbed "Bid Rig III," resulted in the arrest of numerous Jersey City, New Jersey politicians on July 23, 2009.
Louis was an unsuccessful Jersey City mayoral candidate in the election held on May 12, 2009. Although he had previously held public office in other capacities, he was not a public official at the relevant time here and did not pretend to be one. Ronald is the brother of Louis, and acted as his campaign manager and political advisor for the 2009 mayoral election.
Two individuals who previously accepted corrupt payments from Dwek, Edward Cheatam and Maher Khalil,
The payments were made in furtherance of two separate schemes. First, Louis agreed to expedite approvals of a particular Jersey City real estate development project known as the "Garfield Development." In exchange, Dwek paid the Manzos $20,000 before the election and promised to pay an additional $10,000 after Louis was elected. Second, Louis agreed to promote Khalil in exchange for a payment of $7,500 before the election and the promise of an additional $7,500 after the election.
The election was held on May 12, 2009, and Louis received 26% of the vote, finishing second in a five-candidate field. Mayor Jerramiah Healy received 53% of the vote and was re-elected. Because Louis was not elected mayor, he did not receive either of the two post-election payments that were agreed upon in furtherance of the two schemes.
On October 6, 2009, a grand jury in the District of New Jersey returned a six-count indictment, which charged the Manzos with: (1) one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right in violation of the Hobbs Act; (2) three counts of attempted extortion under color of official right in violation of the Hobbs Act; and (3) two counts of travel in interstate commerce to promote, carry on and facilitate bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1952(a)(3), 2. On April 20, 2010, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment with a seventh count, charging the Manzos with mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341.
Louis Manzo filed a pretrial motion seeking dismissal of Counts One through Four, which charged the Hobbs Act conspiracy and attempt offenses. For the government to prove a violation of the Hobbs Act using the "under color of official right" theory, it "need only show that a public official has obtained a payment to which he was not entitled, knowing that the payment was made in return for official acts." Evans v. United States,
The District Court granted the Manzos' motion seeking dismissal of the Hobbs Act attempt and conspiracy charges. It applied the rule of lenity, and held that the conduct was "not clearly within the scope of the Hobbs Act even if only conspiracy or attempt [was] charged." United States v. Manzo,
The District Court had subject matter jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 3231. We have jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 3731.
We have plenary review over the sufficiency of an indictment to charge an offense. United States v. Yusuf,
This case presents a significant and novel question, creatively framed and well-presented by the government. In essence, it asks us to consider whether an unsuccessful candidate for public office can attempt or conspire to obtain property from another with that person's consent induced under color of official right within the meaning of the Hobbs Act.
The District Court concluded that the Manzos were not acting "under color of official right" because: (a) the Hobbs Act is ambiguous and the legislative history supports a narrow construction of the phrase; (b) the congressional purpose of the statute corresponds with a narrow construction; and (c) the rule of lenity applies to narrow the application of the ambiguous statute. Moreover, the District Court concluded that acting "under color of official right" was a requirement even for prosecution of an inchoate violation of the Hobbs Act that did not involve threatened force, violence or fear. We agree and conclude that, because the Manzos did not act "under color of official right," they may not be charged with attempt or conspiracy to extort in violation of the Hobbs Act.
To determine whether the Manzos' conduct falls within the Hobbs Act, we begin with the plain meaning of the "under color of official right" language. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.,
18 U.S.C. § 1951.
The scope of the term "under color of official right" is not readily apparent from the face of the statute. Indeed, courts have grappled with ambiguity embedded in the text of the Hobbs Act, and in particular, the "under color of official right" language. The ambiguity has led some judges to comment that "the phrase `under color of official right', standing alone, is vague almost to the point of unconstitutionality." United States v. O'Grady,
Because the statute is not clear on its face, we normally look to legislative history to discern congressional intent. See, e.g., Bruesewitz v. Wyeth Inc.,
"Extortion is one of the oldest crimes in Anglo-American jurisprudence." Id. at 278, 112 S.Ct. 1881 (Thomas, J., dissenting). At common law, the phrase "extortion under color of official right" was a legal term of art that encompassed only the actions of public officials. Id. at 260, 112 S.Ct. 1881; Mazzei, 521 F.2d at 650. Extortion was defined as "any officer's unlawfully taking, by color of his office, from any man, any money or thing of value that is not due to him." 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries.
Id. (quoting Kitby v. State, 57 N.J.L. 320, 31 A. 213, 213-14 (1894)) (emphasis added). Accordingly, common law extortion, which extended only to the actions of a public official or someone acting with the power of a public official, does not encompass the Manzos' conduct.
The statutory offense of extortion mirrors the narrow common law interpretation. The word "extortion," as used in the Hobbs Act, first appeared in the Anti-Racketeering Act of 1946 ("1946 Act"), which amended the Anti-Racketeering Act of 1934 ("1934 Act"). The 1934 Act addressed primarily labor racketeering, but also proscribed an offense that we now define as extortion: obtaining property "under color of official right." Mazzei, 521 F.2d at 652. The 1934 Act was interpreted narrowly in United States v. Teamsters Local 807,
There is surprisingly little legislative history accompanying the 1934 Act, and what little exists reveals that it "was [not] intended to empower federal authorities to police influence peddling in the political processes of the states." Id. The 1934 Act was proposed by the Senate and initially contained no mention of the phrase "under color of official right." Id. After passing the Senate, it was submitted to the House, where it was completely amended. Id. The House revision added the phrase "under color of official right" for the first time, but a letter explaining the revisions failed to mention the rationale for inclusion of the phrase. Id. The omission "suggests that the draftsmen did not intend the prohibition to reach conduct not extortionate at common law." Id. at 653.
In fact, we can trace the identical "under color of official right" language back to the New York Penal Law of 1909, which, in turn, borrowed the language from a penal code prepared by David Dudley Field and others (the "Commissioners"). Commissioners of the Code, The Penal Code of the State of New York (1865). The Field version provided: "Extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right." Id.
In an explanatory note to the Field version, the Commissioners cited to People v. Whaley, 6 Cow. 661 (N.Y.Sup.Ct.1827), for the derivation of the "under color of official right" language. Whaley involved a common
Field's definition of extortion, derived from Whaley, was first enacted verbatim into the New York Penal Code of 1881, ch. 676, section 552. The drafters also included Section 556 to expand upon the definition of extortion committed "under color of official right." Mazzei, 521 F.2d at 654. Section 556 provided that:
The New York Penal Code of 1909 later adopted Section 556 as well as the "under color of official right" language. "The New York statute intended to proscribe common law extortion which required an act or pretended act in an official capacity." Mazzei, 521 F.2d at 654. The statutory language tracing back to 1827 reveals that "the portion of the [Hobbs Act] that refers to official misconduct continues to mirror the common-law definition." Evans, 504 U.S. at 264, 112 S.Ct. 1881. Extortionate conduct committed "under color of official right" must be action in an official capacity or a pretended act in an official capacity, which means one pretends to hold an office that he in fact does not. Therefore, we conclude that because the Manzos neither acted nor pretended to act in an official capacity, their conduct was not "under color of official right."
The narrow common law reading of the "under color of official right" language is also consistent with congressional purpose. Mazzei, 521 F.2d at 645. Congress sought to proscribe coercive activity through enactment of the Hobbs Act. Under the terms of the Hobbs Act, a person can only commit extortion in one of two ways: (1) through threatened force, violence or fear or (2) under color of official right. See 18 U.S.C. § 1951(b)(2). Both of these types of extortion are inherently coercive. The District Court found that the Manzos' actions did not involve any coercion, and were thus outside the ambit of the Hobbs Act.
The government argues that the District Court erred in inserting a "coercion requirement" into the Hobbs Act. This argument mischaracterizes the District Court's reasoning. In exploring the congressional purpose underlying the Hobbs Act, the District Court correctly apprehended that Congress sought to criminalize only coercive exchanges. In essence, when proceeding under a "color of official right" theory, the "misuse of public office is said to supply the element of coercion." United States v. Hathaway,
The government argues that the implicit coercion requirement was met because Louis agreed and intended to obtain additional cash from Dwek after being elected mayor and in exchange for exercising his official powers as mayor. This argument is unpersuasive. The Manzos never acted "under color of official right" and never used force. Therefore, their actions were not of the coercive type targeted by Congress in the Hobbs Act.
In accordance with the legislative history, the congressional purpose underlying the Hobbs Act and centuries of interpretation of the phrase "under color of official right," we conclude that the Manzos were not acting "under color of official right," as defined in the Hobbs Act.
Having concluded that the Manzos did not act "under color of official right," we must determine whether they nonetheless may be prosecuted for the inchoate offenses of conspiracy or attempt. The government argues that the conspiracy count is valid because both elements of a conspiracy are met: (1) criminal intent and (2) an overt act. Specifically, the government argues the Manzos' criminal intent "crystallized" when they agreed to accept future payments in exchange for future political favors. It contends that when the Manzos accepted down payments in furtherance of this scheme, this constituted an overt act substantiating a charge for conspiracy.
The government also argues that the attempt counts are valid because both elements of an attempt are met. An attempt conviction "requires evidence that [the defendants] (1) acted with the requisite intent to violate the statute, and (2) performed an act that, under the circumstances as [they] believe them to be, constitute[d] a substantial step in the commission of the crime." United States v. Tykarsky,
Neither party disputes that if every contingency upon which this case is based had occurred (if Louis had won the election, accepted money as mayor of Jersey City, and subsequently misused his public office), the Manzos would have been guilty of a prototypical, substantive Hobbs Act violation. However, the two parties dispute the importance of Louis's failure to obtain office. The government maintains that his failure to obtain office constitutes a factual impossibility, which is not a defense to conspiracy or attempt. See, e.g., United States v. Williams, 553 U.S. 285, 300,
We agree that "[t]he Hobbs Act, by its own terms, encompasses the inchoate offenses of attempt and conspiracy to extort." United States v. Jannotti,
In support of its argument that this case turns on factual impossibility, the government points to United States v. Ledesma-Cuesta,
Ledesma-Cuesta is distinguishable from the facts at hand because this is not the "type of case the [Hobbs Act] was designed to address."
On the other hand, we have sustained a proper charge for conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act violation where a non-status element of the offense was not met. In United States v. Jannotti, defendants Jannotti and Schwartz were convicted by a jury of conspiracy to extort in violation of the Hobbs Act.
The facts in Jannotti are directly analogous to the facts in Ledesma-Cuesta and distinguishable from the facts here. Jannotti represents the proper circumstances that support a charge for conspiracy to commit a Hobbs Act violation. In contrast to Jannotti, neither Louis nor Ronald ultimately acted "under color of official right," the central status element of a Hobbs Act "under color of official right" violation. Accordingly, their actions do not sustain a charge for conspiracy or attempt.
Although this is a question of first impression in our Circuit, we note that the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided a factually similar case, United States v. Meyers,
On appeal, the Seventh Circuit disagreed with the district court's characterization of the issue. It narrowed the issue on appeal to "whether, within the meaning of the Hobbs Act, it is a crime for candidates for political office to conspire to affect commerce by extortion induced under color of official right during a time frame beginning before the election but not ending until after the candidates have obtained public office." Id. at 1035 (emphasis added). The court leaned on the "crucial factor of continuity in the crime of conspiracy," and determined that the conspiracy did not conclude until after the defendants took office. Id. at 1036. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit held that "the alleged conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right constitutes a crime under the Hobbs Act, even though [the defendants] were private citizens at the inception of the conspiratorial agreement." Id. Although the Seventh Circuit reasoned that "it is no less of a crime under the Hobbs Act to sell one's public trust before, rather than after, one is installed in public office," it rested its decision on the basis that the defendants ultimately obtained office. Id. at 1038.
A Hobbs Act inchoate offense prohibits a person acting "under color of
For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court. Acting "under color of official right" is a requirement of an extortion Hobbs Act offense, substantive or inchoate, when that offense does not involve threatened force, violence or fear. Conduct by an unsuccessful candidate in an election does not meet that requirement.
- No Cases Found