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Ramey v. United States

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 22, 2014

AVA RAMEY, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. Criminal Case No. RWT-12-00309

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROGER W. TITUS, District Judge.

On January 13, 2014, Petitioner Ava Ramey ("Ramey") moved under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate her sentence, claiming that her guilty plea was "unknowing and involuntary based on ineffective assistance of counsel, " and made discovery requests to expand the record in furtherance of her motion. ECF No. 34. On March 26, 2014, the Government filed an Opposition, arguing that Ramey's claims were without merit. ECF No. 50. On May 5, 2014, Ramey filed a Reply that included new allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. ECF No. 57. Pursuant to an Order of this Court, ECF No. 61, the Government filed a Surreply. ECF No. 64. Because Ramey does not establish a prima facie case for relief or show good cause for discovery, her motions for discovery and to vacate pursuant to § 2255, ECF No. 34, will be denied.

BACKGROUND

On June 5, 2012, an information was filed against Ava Ramey charging her with embezzlement of $379, 000 from a labor union, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 501(c). ECF No. 1. On June 25, 2012, Ramey waived her right to indictment by a grand jury, instead allowing the case to proceed by Information alone. ECF No. 6. The same day, Ramey pled guilty to the § 501(c) violation, and agreed to the following facts as part of her plea agreement: (1) that the union, Local 21 of the United Government Security Officers of America ("UGSOA"), was a labor organization that was engaged in commerce; (2) that Ramey acted as Assistant Trustee and later Trustee of that labor organization; (3) that the monies that are the subject of the criminal information were, at the time of the relevant conduct, the monies of the labor organization;

(4) that Ramey "abused her positions of trust by willfully and unlawfully embezzling funds that belonged to UGSOA Local 21"; (5) that Ramey " act [ ed ] with intent to defraud "; and (6) that in all, Ramey "embezzled a total of at least $379, 000 from the UGSOA Local 21 account during the period from December 2005 to October 2009." ECF No. 7-1 at 1-3 (emphasis added). Attorney Ellis Scott Frison, Jr. ("Frison") represented Ramey in connection with the plea agreement and at the plea hearing. ECF Nos. 4, 7 at 1.

At the plea hearing, Ramey was asked "Are the facts set forth in [the plea agreement] true and correct?" Ramey answered, under oath, "They are." ECF No. 50-1 at 30. Then, counsel for the Government summarized the Statement of Facts to which Ramey pled guilty, stating

Ms. Ramey abused her positions of trust by willfully and unlawfully embezzling funds that belonged to UGSOA Local 21. Acting with intent to defraud, she embezzled funds through various means.... In all, Ms. Ramey embezzled a total of at least $379, 000 from UGSOA Local 21's account during the period... from December 2005 to October 2009.

Id . at 31-33 (emphasis added). When asked if the summarized Statement of Facts was "true and correct, " Ramey answered "Yes, Your Honor." Id . at 33. When asked "Are you pleading guilty because you're, in fact, guilty?" Ramey answered, "Yes, Your Honor." Id.

Additionally, the Court asked Ramey, "Are you fully satisfied with the counsel, representation and advice that's been given to you in this case by your attorney [Frison]?" Ramey answered, "Yes." Id . at 6. When asked, "Do you understand your right now to indictment by the Grand Jury?" Ramey answered, "Yes, I did." Id . at 8. And when asked, "Do you still wish to waive that right?" Ramey answered "Yes." Id.

On September 27, 2012, Frison moved to withdraw as Ramey's counsel, ECF No. 13, and on October 5, 2012, the motion was granted by Chief Magistrate Judge Connelly, ECF No. 17. On October 10, 2012, Attorney Anthony Martin ("Martin") was appointed by Judge Connelly to represent Ramey. ECF No. 18. On January 4, 2013, Ramey moved to withdraw her guilty plea. ECF No. 23. The same day, Martin moved to withdraw as her counsel based on irreconcilable differences, ECF No. 22. The matter was referred to Judge Connelly for an attorney inquiry hearing which was held on January 7, 2013, at the conclusion of which the motion to withdraw was denied. ECF No. 25.

Later that day, a hearing was held on the motion to withdraw the guilty plea, at the conclusion of which the motion was orally denied. The Court then proceeded to sentencing and Ramey was sentenced to 24 months in prison and $379, 000 in restitution, ECF Nos. 24, 30. No appeal was taken.

On January 13, 2014, Ramey filed a Motion to Vacate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, claiming that her guilty plea was "unknowing and involuntary based on ineffective assistance of counsel failing to investigate exculpatory evidence" and for failing to challenge the restitution amount of $379, 000. ECF No. 34 at 7-9. She also makes requests for discovery, including interrogatories and an evidentiary hearing, "to further develop the record." Id . at 12. The same day, Ramey filed a Motion for Subpoena, ECF No. 33, and a Motion for Production of Transcripts, ECF No. 35. On February 6, 2014, Ramey filed a Motion to Amend/Correct the list of proposed interrogatories submitted in connection with her Motion for Subpoena. ECF No. 41.

On February 14, 2014 this Court denied Ramey's Motion for Subpoena, Motion for Production of Transcripts, and Motion to Amend/Correct because "[p]etitioner ha[d] not set forth sufficient factual allegations to show good cause to warrant discovery, " and the "Motion fail[ed] to particularize the need for transcripts." ECF No. 44 at 2. On March 5, 2014, Ramey filed a Notice of Appeal regarding the Order denying her Motions for Subpoena, Production of Transcripts, and to Amend/Correct the Interrogatories. ECF No. 46. On April 1, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit granted a Motion to Voluntarily Dismiss the Appeal. ECF No. 52. Ramey did not appeal her case on the merits.

On March 26, 2014, the Government filed an Opposition to Ramey's Motion to Vacate pursuant to § 2255, arguing Ramey's claim is without merit because (1) she testified under oath that she was fully satisfied with her representation by Frison, ECF No. 50 at 4, and (2) her claim that Frison's failure to investigate exculpatory evidence, even if true, would be irrelevant because the evidence she sought would not have provided her with a viable defense. Id . at 5. The Government also argues that Ramey's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on failure to challenge the restitution amount is meritless because Ramey admitted under oath that she embezzled the stated amount. Id. at 6.

On May 5, 2014, Ramey filed a Reply in which she repeated her allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel and alleged prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the Government. ECF No. 57. Specifically, Ramey alleged that her counsel was ineffective for failing to (1) investigate exculpatory evidence that would show that Ramey believed in good faith that her use of the funds was authorized, (2) advise Ramey of the five-year statute of limitations on § 501(c) charges, (3) challenge the application of § 501(c) to Ramey as an independent contractor, and (4) secure a more beneficial plea agreement. ECF No. 57 at 5-8, 13-20. Ramey also accused the Government of prosecutorial misconduct for misleading her and her attorney as to the elements of embezzlement under § 501(c), [1] for withholding evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and for denying the existence of a more beneficial plea agreement. Id . at 5-9, 12-13. Ramey also filed a new Motion for Discovery, Subpoena & Interrogatories to develop evidence to support these allegations. ECF No. 57-3.

On June 19, 2014, this Court ordered the Government to file a Surreply in response to Ramey's new allegations, ECF No. 61, and on July 7, 2014, the Government filed its Surreply, ECF No. 64. In the Surreply, the Government responded that it "did not tell the petitioner that a good faith' defense is not viable' as an affirmative defense.... Instead, the government made clear to the defendant [that]... the evidence fail[ed] to support her claim' of an alleged good faith' defense." ECF No. 64 at 3 (emphasis in original) (internal citations to the record omitted). The Government also claimed it "has no knowledge of any of the documents" that Ramey claimed were withheld by the ...


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