United States District Court, D. Maryland
RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
31, 2017, the Grand Jury returned a nine-count Indictment
(ECF No. 16) charging the Defendant Nathaniel Thomas Oaks, a
State Senator representing the City of Baltimore in the
Maryland General Assembly, with the corrupt use of his office
in a bribery scheme. He has been charged with three counts of
wire fraud under 18 U.S.C § 1343, one count of honest
services wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and
1346, and five counts of Travel Act violations under 18
U.S.C. § 1952. This first Indictment also includes a
forfeiture count in which the Government seeks forfeiture of
at least $15, 300 allegedly paid to Defendant Oaks over the
course of the bribery scheme. It is specifically alleged that
Senator Oaks accepted bribes from "Mike Henley, " a
confidential source of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(TBI") posing as a businessman from Texas seeking
business opportunities in a U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development ("HUD") project in Baltimore.
six months later and after this case had been scheduled for
trial, on November 15, 2017, the Grand Jury returned a
Superseding Indictment adding a tenth count charging the
Defendant with obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. §
1512(c)(2). It is specifically alleged that Senator Oaks,
having been confronted by FBI agents with evidence of his
accepting bribes in connection with the Baltimore HUD
contracts, agreed to cooperate with the Government In this
respect, it is alleged that Oaks advised FBI agents that he
had accepted gifts and gratuities from another individual,
"Person #1, " who had been willing to also make
corrupt payments to other public officials. These alleged
payments in no way related to the FBI confidential source
posing as a businessman. Despite this alleged cooperation, it
is alleged that Oaks ultimately obstructed justice by warning
this individual that he was under investigation by government
pending is the Defendant's Motion for Severance of Count
Ten from the initial Counts One through Nine. (ECF No. 44.)
After reviewing the parties' submissions, this Court
conducted a hearing on January 11, 2018. The Court has
further reviewed additional submissions of counsel within the
past week. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's
Motion is GRANTED, and Count Ten is severed from Counts One
through Nine. The trial of this case shall proceed as
scheduled on April 16, 2018 with respect to Counts One though
Nine and a separate trial - to be scheduled at a later date -
shall be held with respect to Count Ten. Joinder is not
proper under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure as the only real connection between Counts One
through Nine and Count Ten is the alleged inherent corruption
of Senator Oaks. Furthermore, even if joinder of the separate
charges were permitted, severance is mandated in the exercise
of this Court's discretion under Rule 14 of the Federal
Rules of Criminal Procedure as there is a risk of prejudice
to the Defendant.
Rule 8(a) -Joinder of Offenses
8(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure governs the
joinder of separate counts in a single indictment. Rule 8(a)
The indictment or information may charge a defendant in
separate counts with 2 or more offenses if the offenses
charged-whether felonies or misdemeanors or both- are of the
same or similar character, or are based on the same act or
transaction, or are connected with or constitute parts of a
common scheme or plan.
Fed. R. Crim. P. 8(a). The United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit has consistently held that Rule 8(a)
"permits Very broad joinder"' in order to avoid
wasting judicial resources, but the rule's broad reach is
"not infinitely elastic." United States v.
Hawkins, 776 F.3d 200, 206 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting
United States v. Mackins, 315 F.3d 399, 412 (4th
Cir. 2003)). Joinder is not proper when the only connection
between the counts is the defendant. Hawkins, 776
F.3d at 209 (citing United States v. Cardwell, 433
F.3d 378, 387 (4th Ck. 2005)); Mackins, 315 F.3d at
412-413. There must be limits because the "joinder of
unrelated charges 'create[s] the possibility that a
defendant will be convicted based on considerations other
than the facts of the charged offense.'"
Hawkins, 776 F.3d at 206 (quoting Cardwell,
433 F.3d at 384-85).
Rule 14 - Relief from Prejudicial Joinder
joinder is proper under Rule 8, this Court has the discretion
to grant a severance under Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of
Criminal Procedure. United States v. Lane, 474 U.S.
438, 449 (1986). Rule 14(a) states:
If the joinder of offenses or defendants in an indictment, an
information, or a consolidation for trial appears to
prejudice a defendant or the government, the court may order
separate trials of counts, sever the defendants' trials,
or provide any other relief that justice requires.
Fed. R. Crim. P. 14(a). "Rule 14's concern is to
provide the trial court with some flexibility when a joint
trial may appear to risk prejudice to a party."
Lane, 474 U.S. at 449, n. 12. In seeking severance
under Rule 14, the defendant must make a "genuine"
and "strong showing of prejudice." United
States v. Goldman,750 F.2d 1221, 1225 (4th Or. 1984).
"[A] district court should grant a severance under Rule
14 only if there is a serious risk that a joint trial would .
. . prevent the jury from making a reliable judgment about
guilt or innocence." Cardwell, 433 F.3d at
387-88 (citing Zafiro ...