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United States v. Henderson

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

May 30, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ICHAEL HENDERSON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES C. CACHERIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Michael Henderson's (“Defendant” or “Henderson”) Combined Motion for New Trial Pursuant to Rule 33 and Motion for Acquittal Pursuant to Rule 29. [Dkt. 571.] Henderson's Second Motion for New Trial is also before the Court. [Dkt. 575.] For the following reasons, the Court will deny both of Defendant's motions.

         I. Standard of Review

         A. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) provides, in relevant part, “if the jury has returned a guilty verdict, the court may set aside the verdict and enter an acquittal.” Where such a motion is based on “insufficiency of the evidence, the conviction must be sustained if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the Government, is sufficient for any rational trier of fact to find the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Romer, 148 F.3d 359, 364 (4th Cir. 1998).

         When ruling on a Rule 29(c) motion, “the trial court should only consider the sufficiency of the evidence presented in that trial, not what evidence is likely to be admitted or excluded in a future trial.” United States v. Mackins, 32 F.3d 134, 138-39 (4th Cir. 1994). The Government must be allowed “the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the facts proven to those sought to be established.” United States v. Tresvant, 677 F.2d 1018, 1021 (4th Cir. 1982) (citations omitted). “Furthermore, neither the district court nor the appellate court should consider a witnesses' credibility, but must assume that the jury resolved all contradictions in favor of the Government.” Romer, 148 F.3d at 364.

         B. Motion for New Trial

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 provides, in relevant part, that “the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. The Fourth Circuit instructs that “a trial court should exercise its discretion to award a new trial sparingly, and a jury verdict is not to be overturned except in the rare circumstance when the evidence ‘weighs heavily' against it.” United States v. Smith, 451 F.3d 209, 216-17 (4th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). Although while addressing a Rule 33 motion a district court “is not constrained by the requirement that it view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, ” such a motion should only be granted when “the evidence weighs so heavily against the verdict that it would be unjust to enter judgment.” United States v. Arrington, 757 F.2d 1484, 1485 (4th Cir. 1985).

         II. Analysis

         A. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

         Defendant Henderson's omnibus motion, which consists of just six sentences, adopts Defendant Seko's motion for judgment of acquittal in its entirety. [Dkt. 571.] Seko's motion focuses almost exclusively on the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict her. [Dkt. 566 at 3-17.] As a result, the motion has little or nothing to say about the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict Henderson. While the Court recognizes that Henderson's motion fails to meet the “heavy burden” required under Rule 29(c) to set aside a unanimous jury verdict, see United States v. Foster, 507 F.3d 233, 245 (4th Cir. 2007), it nevertheless proceeds to analyze the testimony and documentary evidence underlying his convictions.

         In the instant case, the Court finds that there was ample evidence to convict Defendant Henderson of conspiracy and mail and wire fraud. For example, Joshua Johnson, Sabrina Rafo, and Nicholas Estilow all testified that Henderson was involved in the fraudulent scheme; in fact, Estilow described Henderson as one of the scheme's best salespeople. Two victims, Ronald D. and Auntrae B., also testified that Henderson personally scammed them. See also Gov't Exhs. 84-1 through 84-9. In addition, Estilow testified that he observed Henderson disbursing the scheme's fraudulent proceeds to Araya, a point which Rafo later corroborated. Rafo also testified that she observed Henderson opening bank accounts on behalf of the fraudulent scheme. Her testimony was then confirmed by documentary evidence, which established that Henderson opened a number of bank accounts into and from which he deposited and withdrew victim funds, frequently in cash, see, e.g., Gov't Exhs. 118-1, 118-2, 124-2 through 124-5, 125-1, 125-2, 125-4 through 125-6, 126-1 through 126-4, 128-1, 128-2, 128-4, 128-7, 128-11, 128-21, 129-1 through 129-3, 403-1, 403-2, 404-1, 404-2, 405-1, 405-2, 406-1, 406-3, 407-1, 407-2, 408-1, 409-1, as well as a number of retail mailboxes used to receive those funds, see, e.g., Gov't Exhs. 45-1, 55-1, 57-2, 59-1, 87-3, 87-4. Moreover, the documentary evidence showed that Henderson personally retrieved victim funds that were sent through MoneyGram, see Gov't Exhs. 114-1, 114-2, 114-3, 115-1, and went with Araya and Seko to open Permit 78 to continue sending mailings to potential victims in the fall of 2013, see, e.g., Gov't Exh. 40-2. Finally, an employee of Chase Bank testified that she spoke with Henderson, warning him that a victim complained about paying money for services that were never rendered. See Gov't Exh. 128-19.

         Given the substantial weight of this evidence, and Rule 29(c)'s requirement to view that evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, the Court holds that a reasonable trier of fact could have found Defendant Henderson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy and mail and wire fraud. Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant's motion for a judgment of acquittal.

         B. Motion ...


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