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United States v. Mathis

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

December 12, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DANIEL LAMONT MATHIS, et al., Defendants.

          AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.

         On October 22, 2014, Halisi Uhuru ("Halisi"), Anthony Darnell Stokes ("Stokes"), and four codefendants were charged in a multi-count superseding indictment. Halisi and Stokes were named in the first count of the superseding indictment, which charged the defendants with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). They were also charged with obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1), based on their involvement in the enterprise's efforts to conceal and destroy evidence associated with the robbery, abduction, and murder of Kevin Quick. All six defendants proceeded to trial in February of 2016, and were convicted of each offense with which they were charged. On November 28, 2016, the court conducted a hearing on the motions for judgment of acquittal filed by Halisi and Stokes, and the parties' written objections to the United States Probation Office's calculations under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. This memorandum opinion sets forth the court's rulings on those motions and objections.

         I. Motions for Judgment of Acquittal

         The defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support their convictions. When a motion for judgment of acquittal is based on a claim of insufficient evidence, the jury verdict "must be sustained if there is substantial evidence, taking the view most favorable to the Government, to support it." Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80 (1942). "Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable finder of fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support a conclusion of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Green, 599 F.3d 360, 367 (4th Cir. 2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In determining whether substantial evidence supports a verdict, the court considers both circumstantial and direct evidence, drawing all reasonable inferences from such evidence in the government's favor. United States v. Harvey, 532 F.3d 326, 333 (4th Cir. 2008). The court does not reweigh the evidence or reassess the jury's determination of witness credibility, United States v. Brooks, 524 F.3d 549, 563 (4th Cir. 2008), and can overturn a conviction on insufficiency grounds "only when the prosecution's failure is clear, " United States v. Move, 454 F.3d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, a defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence must overcome a "heavy burden." United States v. Engle. 676 F.3d 405, 419 (4th Cir. 2012).

         A. Count 1

         As set forth above, Count 1 of the superseding indictment charged the defendants with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). RICO makes it "unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity . . . ." 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). A "pattern of racketeering" consists of "at least two acts of racketeering activity" occurring within a ten-year period, 18 U.S.C. § 1961(5), which are "related" and "pose a threat of continued criminal activity." H.J. Inc. v. Nw. Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 239 (1989). These "[racketeering acts, often referred to as predicate acts, include any act or threat involving murder, kidnapping, gambling, arson, robbery, bribery, extortion, dealing in obscene matter, or dealing in a controlled substance chargeable under state law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year." United States v. Cornell 780 F.3d 616, 623 (4th Cir. 2015) (citing 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(A)). The predicate acts also include "any act which is indictable under [certain] provisions of title 18, " including "section 1512, " 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(B), which makes it unlawful to "corruptly . . . alter[], destroy[], mutilate[], or conceal[] a record, document, or other object, or attempt[] to do so, with the intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding, " 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1).

         Halisi and Stokes were convicted under RICO's conspiracy provision, which prohibits anyone from conspiring to violate the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). See 18 U.S.C § 1962(d). To satisfy § 1962(d), the government must prove the following elements: (1) "that an enterprise affecting interstate commerce existed"; (2) '"that each defendant knowingly and intentionally agreed with another person to conduct or participate in the affairs of the enterprise"; and (3) "that each defendant knowingly and willfully agreed that he or some other member of the conspiracy would commit at least two racketeering acts." United States v. Mouzone, 687 F.3d 207, 218 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Unlike the general conspiracy statute applicable to federal offenses, 18 U.S.C. § 371, § 1962(d) does not require the commission of any overt or specific act in furtherance of the conspiracy. Salinas v. United States, 522 U.S. 52, 64 (1997). Instead, an agreement is sufficient. Id.; see also Mouzone, 687 F.3d at 218.

         1. Halisi's Motion

         In seeking judgment of acquittal on Count 1, Halisi argues, as he did during trial, that the evidence connecting him to the alleged enterprise in this case, the 99 Goon Syndikate, was insufficient. He points out that he was incarcerated during part of the charged time frame of the conspiracy, that he did not personally recruit all of the other members of the 99 Goon Syndikate, that he did not order or direct any of the specific robberies committed by other members, and that he had no involvement in the actual kidnapping and murder of Kevin Quick. According to Halisi, the government's evidence showed that he was merely associated with the charged enterprise, not that he knowingly and willfully agreed to participate in its affairs.

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, however, the court concludes that there is substantial evidence in the record to support the jury's verdict on Count 1. The evidence at trial, which included the testimony of gang members Anthony White, Devante Bell, and Shiquan Jackson, the gang's documents and "books of knowledge, " and text messages sent by Halisi and his codefendants, demonstrated that Halisi was the highest-ranking member of the 99 Goon Syndikate, which was a criminal enterprise of commonly associated individuals who engaged in multiple acts of racketeering for the mutual benefit of the gang's members and the gang itself. As the highest-ranking member of the 99 Goon Syndikate, Halisi was responsible for passing down the gang's lingo and rules to other members of the enterprise. He also mentored and provided guidance to lower ranking members of the gang, such as Shantai Shelton, who was advised by Halisi that she would ultimately move up in rank if she continued to "put in work." Halisi's message to Shantai was consistent with other evidence introduced by the government, which indicated that members of the 99 Goon Syndikate were expected to "put in work, " which meant, in essence, to commit robberies and other racketeering acts. By committing these criminal acts, as gang insider Anthony White testified, members of the enterprise hoped that they would earn both respect and rank, and ultimately move up in the organization.

         While there is no evidence that Halisi ordered, directed, or was personally involved in any of the particular robberies that were committed by members of the 99 Goon Syndikate, the government's evidence established that Halisi benefitted from the acts of racketeering committed by other gang members. For instance, Halisi received a .38 caliber revolver from Anthony White that had been taken from the residence of Michael Shaffer, and then bragged to a witness that he had gotten it from one of his "homies" who had been "putting in work." See Dkt. No. 704 at 35. The government's evidence also established that Halisi was personally involved in at least two acts of racketeering, namely conspiracy to distribute narcotics and obstruction of justice.

         Although Halisi is correct "that the RICO conspiracy statute does not 'criminalize mere association with an enterprise, '" Mouzone, 687 F.3d at 218 (citation omitted), the evidence in this case illustrates far more than his "mere association" with the 99 Goon Syndikate. When construed in the government's favor, the record clearly shows that Halisi was aware of the nature of the enterprise, that he was a leader of the enterprise who guided other members, that he received the proceeds of racketeering acts committed by lower-ranking members, and that he directly participated in at least two racketeering acts underlying the alleged conspiracy. In light of such evidence, it simply cannot be said that Halisi was a mere associate of the 99 Goon Syndikate. Accordingly, his motion for judgment of acquittal on Count 1 must be denied.

         2. Stokes' Motions

         Stokes has also moved for judgment of acquittal on Count 1. In addition to adopting the joint motion for judgment of acquittal filed by Daniel Mathis and Kweli Uhuru, as well as the motion for judgment of acquittal filed by Halisi, Stokes' current counsel has filed on his behalf a motion challenging the sufficiency of the evidence with respect to the third element set forth in Mouzone.[1] Specifically, Stokes argues that the government failed to prove that he "knowingly and willfully agreed that he or some other member of the conspiracy would commit at least two racketeering acts." Mouzone, 687 F.3d at 218. For the following reasons, the court concludes that the evidence presented by the government, when viewed in its favor, was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find that Stokes personally committed at least two racketeering acts.[2]Accordingly, Stokes' motion for judgment of acquittal based on the third element will be denied.

         First, as Stokes seemingly concedes in the memorandum filed in support of his motion, the government's evidence demonstrated that he committed multiple acts establishing his participation in a conspiracy to distribute narcotics. While Stokes argues that the narcotics conspiracy was unrelated to the 99 Goon Syndikate, there was ample evidence from which the jury could reasonably find to the contrary.[3] The government's evidence demonstrated that Stokes was the second-highest-ranking member of the 99 Goon Syndikate, and that the gang created a code to disguise their language when discussing narcotics. Following the murder of Kevin Quick, four members of the Central Virginia line of the 99 Goon Syndikate traveled to Manassas to meet with Halisi and Stokes, the first and second in command. The evidence at trial, including Stokes' own text messages, established that the meeting was important and that attendance was considered mandatory. At that meeting, Stokes recruited Shantai Shelton to distribute narcotics for him in the "Louisa/Charlottesville area, " and Shantai agreed to do so. See Dkt. No. 710 at 129. Moreover, as a result of his involvement in the distribution of narcotics, Stokes was able to provide financial support to other members of the 99 Goon Syndikate, including the four members responsible for Kevin Quick's murder, who Stokes assisted while they were evading law enforcement. For these reasons, the evidence presented by the government was sufficient to establish not only that Stokes was involved in a conspiracy to distribute narcotics, but that this racketeering activity was related to the operation of the enterprise.

         Second, the government's evidence established that Stokes personally committed the predicate racketeering act of obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1). While Stokes argues in a separate motion that he is not guilty of the charged obstruction offense, the court disagrees for the reasons set forth below.

         In sum, the evidence presented by the government, when viewed in its favor, was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find that Stokes agreed to commit, and in fact committed, at least two acts of racketeering. Accordingly, Stokes' motion challenging the sufficiency of the evidence as to the third element of the RICO conspiracy offense must be denied.

         II. Count 36

         Count 36 of the superseding indictment charged Halisi and Stokes with obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1). Under this statute, any person who "corruptly . . . alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both." 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1). For purposes of the statute, an "official proceeding" includes a proceeding before a federal judge, court, or grand jury, but not a state proceeding. See 18 U.S.C. § 1515(a)(1)(A). However, the qualifying proceeding "need not be pending or about to be instituted at the time of the offense, 18 U.S.C. § 1512(f)(1), and the government need not prove that the defendant was aware that the proceeding was federal in nature. See 18 U.S.C. § 1512(g)(1) ("In a prosecution for an offense under this section, no state of mind need be proved with respect to the circumstance . . . that the official proceeding ... is before a judge or court of the United States, [or] a Federal grand jury . . . .").

         B. Halisi's Motions

         Halisi filed a written motion for judgment of acquittal challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction for obstruction of justice. The argument advanced in the written motion is essentially a credibility challenge. Halisi argues that "the only evidence against him regarding the obstruction charge came from Leslie Hope Casterlow, " and that Casterlow's testimony was not worthy of belief since she "admitted to lying on numerous occasions to the police and other officials involved in this case." Dkt. No. 754 at 4.

         As explained above, it was the jury's role to assess the credibility of witnesses and resolve any conflicts in the witnesses' testimony. See Brooks, 524 F.3d at 563. Because the court is not permitted to analyze the credibility of witnesses or re-weigh their testimony when evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, Halisi's credibility challenge is without merit. Moreover, while Leslie Casterlow's testimony established that Halisi was directly involved in the efforts to conceal and destroy evidence of the robbery, abduction, and murder of Kevin Quick, it was not the only evidence offered by the government. Instead, the testimony of gang members Shiquan Jackson and Devante Bell revealed that Halisi was involved in the efforts to dispose of Quick's vehicle, and their testimony was corroborated by a series of text messages between Halisi and other gang members. For these reasons, Halisi's written motion for judgment of acquittal on Count 36 must be denied.[4]

         C. Stokes' Motion

         Stokes filed a separate motion for judgment of acquittal challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction under § 1512(c)(1). Stokes does not claim, nor could he, that the evidence was insufficient to establish his involvement in the destruction of evidence. Instead, relying on the Supreme Court's decisions in United States v. Aguilar, 515 U.S. 593 (1995) and Arthur Anderson LLP v. United States, 544 U.S. 696 (2005), Stokes argues that he is entitled to an acquittal because the government failed to establish a sufficient "nexus" between a proceeding and his obstructive conduct.

         In Aguilar, the Supreme Court considered the intent element under 18 U.S.C. § 1503, which makes it unlawful to '"corruptly endeavor[] to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.'" Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 598. In an effort to "place metes and bounds on the very broad language" of the statute, the Supreme Court held that "[t]he actions of the accused must be with an intent to influence judicial or grand jury proceedings, " and that "it is not enough that there be an intent to influence some ancillary proceeding, such as an investigation independent of the court's or grand jury's authority." Id. at 599. The Supreme Court noted that some courts had "phrased this showing as a 'nexus' requirement - that the act must have a relationship in time, causation, or logic with the judicial proceedings." Id. (internal citations omitted). "In other words, the endeavor must have the 'natural and probable effect' of interfering with the due administration of justice." Id. (internal citations omitted).

         In Arthur Anderson, the Supreme Court extended the Aguilar nexus requirement to prosecutions under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b), which "make[s] it a crime to 'knowingly use intimidation or physical force, threaten, or corruptly persuade another person . . . with intent to cause' that person to 'withhold' documents from, or 'alter' documents for use in, an 'official proceeding."' Arthur Anderson. 544 U.S. at 698 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(2)(A) and (B)). In that case, the Supreme Court relied on Aguilar to support its conclusion that although "a proceeding 'need not be pending or about to be instituted at the time of the offense, '" a proceeding must be at least foreseeable to the defendant. Id., (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 1512(e)(1). The Court emphasized that a defendant who '"lacks knowledge that his actions are likely to affect [a] judicial proceeding . . . lacks the requisite intent to obstruct.'" Id. (quoting Aguilar, 515 U.S. at 599).

         Neither the Supreme Court nor the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has decided whether the nexus requirement articulated in Aguilar and Arthur Anderson extends to prosecutions under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1). However, at least one appellate court has determined that the same logic "applies with equal force to § 1512(c)(1) because that subsection, like § 1512(b)(1), speaks in terms of the relationship between obstructive acts and a proceeding."[5]United States v. Matthews. 505 F.3d 698, 708 (7th Cir. 2007) (holding that "before a defendant may be convicted of obstruction under § 1512(c)(1), he must believe that his acts will be likely to affect a pending or foreseeable proceeding"); see also United States v. Mann, 685 F.3d 714, 723 (8th Cir. 2012) (assuming arguendo that the "Aguilar nexus requirement" applies to § 1512(c)(1)). In this case, the court finds it unnecessary to decide whether Aguilar and Arthur Anderson apply to ยง 1512(c)(1). Even assuming that the nexus ...


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