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United States v. Edlind

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

April 10, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
CAROLYN J. EDLIND, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: January 30, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Harrisonburg. Michael F. Urbanski, Chief District Judge. (5:15-cr-00029-MFU-2)


          David Leroy Parker, DAVID L. PARKER, PC, Harrisonburg, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Heather Lynn Carlton, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Rick Mountcastle, Acting United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Roanoke, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before NIEMEYER and TRAXLER, Circuit Judges, and SHEDD, Senior Circuit Judge.


         A jury convicted Carolyn Edlind of witness tampering, conspiracy to commit witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. Edlind appeals, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to support her convictions. Because we conclude that a reasonable jury could have found that Edlind corruptly persuaded the witness to alter his testimony, we affirm.


         In 2014, a federal grand jury in the Western District of Virginia indicted Felix Adriano Chujoy and his mother, Maria McTague, for human trafficking, money laundering, and other offenses. See United States v. Maria Rosalba Alvarado McTague et al., No. 5:14-CR-055 (filed Dec. 4, 2014) (the Inca's Secret case). The charges arose from their operation of Inca's Secret, a Peruvian restaurant in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Before trial, Chujoy was released with several conditions, including the condition that he refrain from contacting any witnesses or potential witnesses in the Inca's Secret case. His mother was released into the custody of Gary and Carolyn Edlind, close family friends of Chujoy and McTague. The families were so close that Chujoy called Edlind "tia" or "aunt."

         After Chujoy's arrest, the Edlinds and several of Chujoy's close friends, including Christina Kang, Michael Kwiatkowski, and Donald Smith, formed a support group for him. The group met for meals at the Edlinds' home, and for "Taco Tuesdays" at a local restaurant. None of the friends were overly familiar with Inca's Secret or its operation. On one occasion, however, Kwiatkowski had joined Chujoy in transporting several restaurant employees and Chujoy told Kwiatkowski that the workers were all "illegal." (S.J.A. 734). Kwiatkowski, however, thought Chujoy was "joking." (S.J.A. 734).

         During this time, federal agents began receiving reports from witnesses in the Inca's Secret case that McTague and Chujoy had been contacting them. Cell phone records revealed calls from McTague but not Chujoy. Instead, the records showed multiple calls to the witnesses from Chujoy's friends' phones, including phones belonging to Edlind and Kwiatkowski. During interviews with Kwiatkowski and Edlind, the agents learned that Chujoy frequently borrowed their phones to make calls. In light of this new information, the grand jury entered a superseding indictment charging Chujoy and McTague with witness tampering.[1]

         After the issuance of the superseding indictment, Chujoy was arrested and detained. The Edlinds continued to attend and organize Taco Tuesdays with Kang and Kwiatkowski, but the meetings became more sporadic. Edlind, in particular, worried for Chujoy and became paranoid that the Government was investigating his friends. During the dinners, the friends would discuss the case, Chujoy's strange sense of humor, and his use of other peoples' phones. Edlind would ask Kang and Kwiatkowski not to bring their phones to the restaurant or to sit on them in case the Government was listening in on their conversations. Both Edlinds would also ask if Kwiatkowski or Kang had been contacted by the Government.

         On March 25, the Edlinds invited Kwiatkowski and Kang to their house for dessert. During this event, Edlind asked everyone to leave their cell phones outside and then proceeded to "bash[]" Chujoy while also telling everyone that, if contacted by federal agents, they should "tell them that . . . we don't know anything because we don't know anything." (S.J.A. 741). Kwiatkowski found the statement "strange." (S.J.A. 742).

         Meanwhile, Chujoy remained in pretrial detention. During his detention, he repeatedly called Edlind and Smith. Edlind visited nine times, and on other occasions was seen standing outside the jail blowing kisses to someone inside. Chujoy put Kwiatkowski on his visitor list and asked him to come, but Kwiatkowski did not do so. Chujoy also made calls, primarily to Smith and another friend, Yuri Jung, using another inmate's personal identification number, prodding them to get Kwiatkowski to visit.[2]

         Finally, with the Inca's Secret trial only several weeks away, Chujoy sent a letter to Edlind on June 3, 2015:

I'm going to keep this very short in hopes that it reaches you by or before saturday. I met w[ith] my attorney yesterday [and] he read me Mike Kwiatkowski's interview w[ith] the feds. I'm pretty shocked by what it says, so I'm hoping that it is either a big misunderstanding or that the feds are twisting it around. The interview says that according to Mike, my mom was very intimidating, that I can't be trusted, and that I'm always lying and making up stories. It goes on into more specific stories and examples that made me laugh, as I realized that Mike really is as dumb as a door knob, as he obviously could not understand/differentiate when I was joking and when I was being serious. His entire testimony/interview reminded me of a big misunderstanding that we (Mike, Christina [Kang] & I) had over a joke, when I told Christina that he was mildly retarded.
Please make sure to meet with both of them so that Mike understands that much of the information he gave out is incorrect and could lead into me getting into a huge problem. Be nice to him about it, as I wouldn't want to offend him or have him take things personal. I understand that my jokes are sometimes stupid [and] between that [and] him not being able to tell when I was joking or not, his comments/interview are ludicrous.
I hope you get to meet w[ith] them ASAP, as clarifying all this is pretty crucial.
P.S. He should probably also clarify that we didn't really start hanging out, until half way through 2014, as that would probably explain why we were always on two different pages [and] why he didn't really know much about me, or why he couldn't tell when I was joking. (J.A. 281-82).

         After receiving Chujoy's June 3 letter, Edlind visited him at the jail on June 6. Later that day, she sent a text to Kwiatkowski and Kang: "Very important we meet this week!!!!please contact me if you can't do Tuesday." (S.J.A. 1069). Kang said she preferred to talk over the phone, and Kwiatkowski texted the group that they "probably shouldn't be talking about" something that could not be discussed over text. (S.J.A. 1071). Edlind responded, "not on the phone you know why, " (S.J.A. 1071), and "phones in the car will be fine like we have in the past, " (S.J.A. 1072). She then texted, "you guys opt out I'll tell Felix don't worry about it I don't need to stress either." (S.J.A. 1073). Kang did opt out, but Kwiatkowski agreed to meet for Taco Tuesday at El Charro. Unbeknownst to Edlind, however, Kwiatkowski contacted government agents and wore a recording device for the dinner.

         When Kwiatkowski arrived at El Charro, the Edlinds told him to sit on his phone before Edlind told him he could put it outside in her bicycle basket. Edlind admitted to Kwiatkowski that Chujoy had asked her to contact Kwiatkowski and "[t]ell him not to say anything, don't write anymore, do nothing." (J.A. 233). She also brought up the teasing incident referenced in Chujoy's letter, before asking "He told you back in November or something that he murdered somebody? . . . He told you that and you believed it?" (J.A. 234-35). She then ...

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