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United States v. Gaughan

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 2, 2020




         This Court presided over a five-day jury trial in this criminal action against Defendant Kenneth Patrick Gaughan. At the close of the Government's case and again at the close of all evidence, Gaughan moved for judgment of acquittal. The Court denied the motion with respect to all issues but venue, on which the Court reserved ruling pending briefing and oral argument. The Court has received briefing and heard argument on December 16, 2019. ECF Nos. 66, 67, 68. On the same date, the Court granted Gaughan's motion and entered judgment of acquittal in his favor as to venue only. ECF No. 69. This opinion explains the Court's reasoning.

         I. Background

         For the purposes of Gaughan's motion, the facts are not seriously in dispute. Gaughan worked as an Assistant Superintendent for Catholic Schools within the Archdiocese of Washington (“ADW”). He worked physically out of the ADW's main administrative office located in Hyattsville, Maryland. ECF No. 67 at 1, 5. The Government presented evidence at trial tending to show that Gaughan created several fake corporations under false names and then fraudulently induced ADW to pay these corporations for services that would never be rendered. As such was ADW's typical practice, the evidence suggested that Gaughan triggered these payments by submitting invoices, either through intraoffice mail or by hand, which would eventually cause ADW to mail payment in the form of checks.

         The indictment charged Gaughan with three counts of mail fraud under 18 U.S.C. section 1341. The indictment specifically alleged that Gaughan, “for the purpose of executing and attempting to execute the scheme to defraud, knowingly caused to be delivered by mail and by private and commercial interstate carrier” three specific checks between the dates of September 23, 2016 and April 6, 2018. ECF No. 1 at 6.

         By the Government's evidence, however, the three checks at issue were not mailed from or delivered in the State of Maryland. Several ADW employees testified that ADW's practice is to prints its checks, place them in envelopes, and meter those envelopes for mailing at its Hyattsville office. ECF No. 67 at 1. Then, “once the parcels are metered, an ADW employee takes the parcels from the Hyattsville mailroom to the Brookland Post Office in the District of Columbia.” Id. (emphasis added). From there, the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) “takes all mail from the Brookland Post Office to a processing facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where the parcels are deposited, processed, sorted, and shipped to their final destinations.” Id. The evidence at trial indisputably showed that the three checks that are the subject of the indictment were eventually delivered in Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., not in Maryland.

         In his motion for judgment of acquittal, Gaughan contends primarily that the Government adduced insufficient evidence that venue is proper in the District of Maryland. For the following reasons, the Court agrees with Gaughan.

         II. Standard of Review

         Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires that the Court “must enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). The court must “‘[v]iew[] the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government.'” United States v. Hickman, 626 F.3d 756, 763 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Bynum, 604 F.3d 161, 166 (4th Cir.2010)). “The prosecution bears the burden of proving venue by a preponderance of the evidence and, when a defendant is charged with multiple crimes, venue must be proper on each count.” United States v. Ebersole, 411 F.3d 517, 524 (4th Cir. 2005). “[T]hus on a motion for judgment of acquittal, the defendant must show that no reasonable juror could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that venue exists.” United States v. Jaensch, 678 F.Supp.2d 421, 431 (E.D. Va. 2010) (citing Ebersole, 411 F.3d at 524), aff'd, 665 F.3d 83 (4th Cir. 2011).

         III. Analysis

         The Government puts forward two independent theories as to why venue is proper in the District of Maryland. First, the Government argues that venue lies in Maryland because Gaughan, while working at ADW in Hyattsville, submitted invoices which eventually caused the checks in question to be mailed. Second, the Government asserts that venue is proper under 18 U.S.C. section 3237(a), the continuing offense venue statute, because the USPS processed the checks in Gaithersburg, Maryland before sending them to their final destinations. The Court first discusses the Government's burden of demonstrating that venue is proper in Maryland, then addresses each of the Government's arguments separately.

         A. Proper Venue is a Constitutional Mandate

         Article III of the United States Constitution provides that all criminal trials “shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 3; see also Fed. R. Crim. P. 18. Relatedly, the Sixth Amendment guarantees that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” U.S. Const. amend. VI. Because of the hardship imposed when facing “trial in an environment alien to the accused, ” venue is not merely a “formal legal procedure” but rather “touch[es] closely [on] the fair administration of criminal justice and public confidence in it.” United States v. Johnson, 323 U.S. 273, 275-76 (1944); see also United States v. Cabrales, 524 U.S. 1, 6 & n.1 (1998) (“Proper venue in criminal proceedings was a matter of concern to the Nation's founders.”). Accordingly, it is settled law that “in a criminal case, venue must be narrowly construed.” United States v. Jefferson, 674 F.3d 332, 365 (4th Cir. 2012); see also Johnson, 323 U.S. at 276; Travis v. United States, 364 U.S. 631, 637 (1961) (reading 18 U.S.C. § 3237 narrowly “in light of the constitutional requirements”); United States v. Ramirez, 420 F.3d 134, 146 (2d Cir. 2005); United States v. Brennan, 183 F.3d 139, 146-47 (2d Cir. 1999).

         B. Venue Analysis Applicable to Mail Fraud

         The Court must first determine whether Congress has “specifically provided for venue in the statute defining an offense.” Jefferson, 674 U.S. at 365; United States v. Sterling, 860 F.3d 233, 240 (4th Cir. 2017); United States v. Verclas, No. GJH-18-160, 2019 WL 95148, at *2 (D. Md. Jan. 3, 2019). Although some disagree as to whether the mail fraud statute itself provides for venue where the mail is placed, deposited or delivered, United States v. Wood, 364 F.3d 704, 723 (6th Cir. 2004) (Gwin, D.J., dissenting); Venue in Mail Fraud, U.S. Dep't of Justice, Justice Manual § 966, this Court finds that the mail fraud statute does not include a specific venue provision as is typically understood, see Jefferson, 674 U.S. at 365 (concluding that the “analogous” wire fraud statute does not include a specific venue provision).

         Accordingly, the Court must determine where proper venue lies through a two-step analysis. First, the Court must identify the essential elements conduct, or the actus rei, of the offense. Jefferson, 674 F.3d at 365, 367; Sterling, 860 F.3d at 241. Second, the Court must determine where the essential elements conduct took place. Jefferson, 674 F.3d at 365; Sterling, 880 F.3d at 241. Venue is proper in any district in which such essential elements conduct occurred. Sterling, 880 F.3d at 241.

         As to the first step, the Court begins with the mail fraud statute itself. 18 U.S.C. section 1341 provides in relevant part that “[w]hoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud . . . places . . . deposits or causes to be deposited . . . or knowingly causes to be delivered [mail matter] . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years.” 18 U.S.C. § 1341. Here, the Government has elected to charge Gaughan solely with “caus[ing] to be delivered” three checks in furtherance of the criminal fraud scheme. ECF No. 1 at 6. Accordingly, for purposes of venue, the essential acts analysis is confined to the Government's chosen prosecution theory. See United States v. Randall, 171 F.3d 195, 203 (4th Cir. 1999).[1]

         As to how this Court determines the essential elements acts, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has provided important guidance. In United States v. Jefferson, the court reached this very question as it pertained to the “analogous” wire fraud statute[2] which shares “identical elements” to the mail fraud statute. 674 F.3d 332 (2012). Jefferson involved the Eastern District of Virginia trial of Congressman William Jefferson. Id. at 335-36. The sixteen-count indictment alleged that Jefferson solicited bribes, and in exchange used his influence to leverage a lucrative telecommunications contract between a Virginia business woman, a Kentucky corporation, and the Nigerian Government. Id. at 341-46. Aspects of this telecommunications scheme took place in the Eastern District of Virginia (for example, when in an Arlington, Virginia hotel the businesswoman gave Jefferson $100, 000 in cash to pay off the Nigerian Vice President). Id. at 346. However, Count Ten of the ...

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