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United States v. Oaks

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 19, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
NATHANIEL THOMAS OAKS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On May 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.

         Almost 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 agents.

         Currently 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.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I. Rule 8(a) -Joinder of Offenses

         Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure governs the joinder of separate counts in a single indictment. Rule 8(a) provides:

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).

         II. Rule 14 - Relief from Prejudicial Joinder

         Even if 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 ...


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