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Sadr v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

September 9, 2016

LINDA SADR, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          City of Manassas, Interested Party, represented by Martin R. Crim, Smith & Davenport.

          Midas, Inc., Interested Party, represented by Levi Earl Jones, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

          USA, Plaintiff, represented by Jack Hanly, U.S. Attorney's Office, Karen Ledbetter Taylor, United States Attorney's Office & Marla Tusk, United States Attorney's Office.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.

         Linda Sadr, an inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. She claims that she received ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea negotiations that led to her incarceration. She now seeks to vacate, set aside, or amend her sentence. The Government has filed its response in opposition, to which Ms. Sadr replied. Ms. Sadr also filed an amendment to her initial petitionand an addendum to her reply. For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In 2010, the government was investigating Ms. Sadrfor participating in a fraudulent mortgage scheme that began as early as 2004. Under this scheme, Ms. Sadr obtained clients by telling them that she could help eliminate their mortgages. She falsely told these clients that she had successfully eliminated mortgages in the past and that she had a high success rate. By collecting fees and advance mortgage payments from a few individuals, Ms. Sadr was able to completely pay off the real estate debt for select clients, and she used the stories from those clients to gather others. In reality, Ms. Sadr was not able to eliminate mortgages as she had claimed, and banks subsequently foreclosed on most of her clients' properties. The victims of this Ponzi scheme lost more than $9.6 million.

         Beginning in 2010 and throughout the relevant time period, Ms. Sadr was represented by Assistant Public Defender Kevin Brehm. His counterpart for the government was Assistant United States Attorney Maria Tusk. In October 2010, Ms. Tusk and Mr. Brehm began to discuss the possibility of a plea agreement. Ms. Tusk sent Mr. Brehm a draft agreement that included a pre-indictment guilty plea to one count of wire fraud and a stipulated statement of facts to which Ms. Sadr would need to agree in order to accept the plea. Through October and November of 2010, Mr. Brehm and Ms. Tusk exchanged emails and negotiated the applicable terms of the plea agreement and the statement of facts.

         On November 12, 2010, Mr. Brehm sent Ms. Tusk an email informing her: "I met with Ms. Sadr at length on Wednesday afternoon, and she followed up with me earlier today. The plea agreement looks fine and she will sign it. There remain some concerns with the latest [statement of facts] you sent, in that Ms. Sadr wants to plead guilty but does not want to admit certain allegations that she firmly believes are incorrect." Gov't Opp'n Br., Ex. 6 at 2 (Dkt. No. 94-6). Mr. Brehm attached a revised statement of facts to the email and stated: "Please let us know if these changes can be agreed to. If not, then I anticipate that at the arraignment on the indictment, I will indicate to the court that Ms. Sadr wants to settle the case and plead guilty and not go to trial, but that we are unable to agree on the SOF language..." Id. Ms. Tusk replied the next day informing Mr. Brehm that the changes were not acceptable. After this email exchange, the plea negotiations broke down and the government proceeded to an indictment, which was returned against Ms. Sadr on November 23, 2010. At her arraignment on December 3, 2010, she pleaded not guilty to all charges and demanded a jury trial. The Court set her bond at $500, 000.

         On January 6, 2011, Ms. Sadr again appeared before the Court, this time to change her plea from "not guilty" to "guilty." At the beginning of the hearing, the Court informed Ms. Sadr of her constitutional rights and asked whether she was satisfied with her counsel. Tr. of Plea Hrg., 3-8, Jan. 1, 2011 (Dkt. No. 14). Ms. Sadr indicated that she was. Id. The Court then proceeded to discuss each of the eight counts against Ms. Sadr. For each count, the Court confirmed that she went over the evidence against her with Mr. Brehm. Ms. Sadr responded that she had done so and that she understood the charges against her and the evidence supporting those charges. Id at 14-18.

         The Court also explained how the Sentencing Guidelines work. It noted that "there may be disagreement among the parties as to what the proper Guideline range is, and that [the Court] will ultimately determine [your sentence] on the day of sentencing." Id. at 8. Importantly, the Court asked: "Have you gone over those Sentencing Guidelines with Mr. Mr. Brehm, " to which Defendant replied: "Yes, your honor." Id. The Court also noted that part of sentencing included "look[ing] at the various factors under Section 3553 of our code" and asked if Ms. Sadr had "gone over those different factors." Id. Ms. Sadr responded: "Yes, Your Honor." After this initial colloquy, she pleaded guilty to all counts against her. Id. at 14.

         Despite this initial plea, however, the Court expressed some concerns that Ms. Sadr might not fully understand "what the Government believes you did and why it's unlawful." Id at 17. The concern came from a dispute in the statement of facts that accompanied the plea. In advance of the hearing, Ms. Sadr had submitted a statement of facts that she agreed to as part of her guilty plea. The government believed this statement was insufficient to support a guilty plea and therefore proffered additional evidence that it intended to prove if the case was to proceed to trial. This evidence included the names of victims, dates of money transfers, and evidence of victims who would be called to testify against Ms. Sadr.

         In light of the different versions of the statement of facts, the Court engaged in a detailed discussion of the facts as presented by both sides. At first, when Ms. Sadr returned to the podium, she disputed some of the facts as presented by the government. She agreed with all of the dates and names of the victims but indicated that she had not intended to defraud the victims in the earlier part of the scheme. The Court explored this further:

THE DEFENDANT: Your Honor, the reason why the guilty plea is because throughout this, after a few years in '07 as I talked to people, I needed to be more clear. And I had information they didn't have. And in '05 and '061 could have represented more clearly to not- It ...

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