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United States v. Standefer

decided: August 10, 1979; As Amended October 11, 1979.



Before Aldisert, Adams and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges. Argued Dec. 12, 1978. Reargued In Banc May 17, 1979. Before Seitz, Chief Judge, and Aldisert, Adams, Gibbons, Rosenn, Hunter, Garth and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Adams


This case arises out of a series of substantial gifts made by the Gulf Oil Corporation and two of its officials to Cyril J. Niederberger, an agent of the Internal Revenue Service and the person charged with auditing Gulf's federal income tax returns. As a result of these alleged improprieties, separate indictments were filed against Gulf, Niederberger, and two Gulf employees, Joseph Fitzgerald and Fred W. Standefer. Standefer, the appellant here, was Gulf's Vice-President of Tax Administration, and Fitzgerald was his immediate subordinate.

Standefer was convicted on all nine counts of an indictment charging him with providing illegal gratuities to a public official, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(f), and with aiding and abetting Niederberger in accepting fees, compensation or rewards, other than as permitted by law, for the performance of his duty, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7214(a)(2). Before a panel of this Court, Standefer unsuccessfully raised several challenges to his conviction. The court thereafter ordered rehearing In banc to consider one of these issues in particular: what effect, if any, should Niederberger's acquittal on three of the counts brought against him under § 7214(a)(2) have on Standefer's conviction for aiding and abetting Niederberger in committing the acts charged in those counts.

We conclude that the outcome of Niederberger's prosecution has no effect on Standefer's conviction, and accordingly affirm on all counts.


From May, 1971, to June, 1974, Gulf Oil Corporation, through Standefer and Fitzgerald, supplied a number of gifts to Niederberger and his family. Five of these gifts were in the form of paid golfing vacations to various resorts and became the subject matter of the indictments returned against Gulf, Standefer, Niederberger and Fitzgerald. Specifically, Gulf paid for: the hotel bill for the Niederberger family in Pompano Beach, Florida; a four-day trip at the Doral Country Club in Miami Beach; a four-day vacation at the Seaview Country Club in Absecon, New Jersey; a trip to Del Monte Lodge in Pebble Beach, California; and a four-day trip to the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Gulf Oil pleaded guilty as to certain counts of the indictment against it, and Fitzgerald entered a plea of Nolo contendere. Niederberger and Standefer elected to submit their cases to juries, and were tried separately. Niederberger, whose trial took place first, was charged with five counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 201(g),*fn1 one for each of the trips listed above, and with five counts of violating 26 U.S.C. § 7214(a)(2),*fn2 also one for each of the trips in question. These statutes forbid the receipt by an IRS agent of gratuities in any way related to the performance of an official duty. Niederberger was convicted on four of the five § 201(g) counts, but a not-guilty verdict was returned regarding the Pompano Beach trip. The jury found Niederberger guilty on only two of the § 7214(a)(2) counts, however, acquitting him on the counts that charged him with accepting the trips to Pompano Beach, Absecon and Miami. He was sentenced to six months in prison to be followed by a five-year period of probation, and fined $5,000. On appeal to this Court his conviction was affirmed. United States v. Niederberger, 580 F.2d 63 (3d Cir. 1978), Cert. denied, 439 U.S. 980, 99 S. Ct. 567, 58 L. Ed. 2d 651 (1979).

Standefer was charged with four counts of violating 18 U.S.C. § 201(f),*fn3 a companion provision to § 201(g). Section 201(f) prohibits the giving or offering of gratuities to a public official for the performance of an official act. These four counts covered all the trips except that to Pompano Beach. Standefer was also charged with five counts of violating § 7214(a)(2), under the theory that he had aided and abetted Niederberger in accepting the five golfing trips. Although, on its face, § 7214(a)(2) applies only to government employees, such a charge is possible under federal law as a result of 18 U.S.C. § 2,*fn4 which allows the punishment of an aider and abettor as if he were a principal. The jury convicted Standefer on all nine counts. He was then sentenced to six months in prison, to be followed by a two-year period of probation, and fined $18,000 $2,000 on each count.

Standefer did not deny that he and Fitzgerald provided the trips in question to Niederberger or that they were paid for with Gulf Oil funds:

Q. You have heard Mr. Fitzgerald testify that there were golf outings and you approved various lunch, travel and expense vouchers. You heard that testimony?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And that's true, is it not?

A. Yes, siree.*fn5

Thus, despite the refusal of the Niederberger jury to convict Niederberger on either of the Pompano Beach counts, Standefer conceded that he had arranged for payment for Niederberger's Pompano Beach trip:

Q. Now let's take a look at these various dates called trip dates.

Do you remember the incident involving Pompano?

A. Yes, sir, I do.

Q. Did you know that that trip was taking place before it took place?

A. What I recall about that trip, Mr. Fitzgerald came into my office and he mentioned that he planned to be in Coral Gables on business, and at that time that he planned to take a vacation.

He also mentioned and this may have been a week or a few days before he left, and he mentioned to me that Mr. Niederberger planned to be there at the same time, and he said something to the effect that, "We will be getting together to play golf, we will be having dinner together," something alone that line. You know, it wasn't a long, lengthy discussion or anything heavy and so I said, "Well, Fitz, if you are doing that, why don't you pick up Mr. Niederberger's expenses?"*fn6

Similarly, although the Niederberger jury had returned a not guilty verdict on the § 7214(a)(2) counts regarding Miami Beach and Absecon, Standefer also admitted arranging for these gifts.*fn7

Standefer, therefore, did not premise his defense on a denial of the facts that formed the basis of the government charges. Rather, he contended that the gifts were provided as a matter of friendship, and had no relationship to Niederberger's official duties. But here, too, the defense faced a difficult task. As this Court made clear in United States v. Niederberger, neither of the statutes involved in that case obligate the government to prove a specific intent, nor do they require proof of a Quid pro quo.*fn8 Standefer, for all practical purposes,*fn9 confronted the same statutes. To find Standefer guilty here, then, it was not necessary for the jury to find a specific intent on Standefer's part to bribe Niederberger, nor did it need to find that Standefer or Gulf were in any way benefited by actions taken by Niederberger. All that was required in order to convict Standefer was that the jury conclude that the gifts were given by him for or because of Niederberger's official position, and not solely for reasons of friendship or social purposes.

The jury's determination in this regard finds substantial support in the record. Although Standefer argued that the trips were given for reasons of friendship, there is no evidence that he ever provided trips for Niederberger prior to his becoming the IRS case manager for the Gulf account or that he has done so since Niederberger left that position. Nor does anything in the record show that Standefer was as generous with corporate funds in giving gifts to any non-business related friends.*fn10 And it appears that Standefer had no social relationship with Niederberger, other than the contact he had with him in their various official capacities.*fn11 Moreover, Standefer's immediate subordinate and own witness, Fitzgerald, testified that he did not believe Standefer and Niederberger to be "close personal friends," but that he considered them to be only "business friends."*fn12 Standefer also regularly submitted, as he was required to do, representation letters to his superiors wherein he stated that all expenditures made or authorized by him, such as the payments for the Niederberger trips, were in the ordinary course of Gulf's business, and that there was an "expectation that Gulf (would) benefit directly or indirectly" from such expenditures.*fn13 Most tellingly, Standefer himself, at one point, stated that the purpose of his expenditures was "to establish rapport" with the IRS:

Q. What did you understand your duties to be on connection with the policies of Gulf Oil as to IRS agents?

A. Well, it was My understanding is that I was to develop a rapport; and as a matter of fact, and when I first came into Pittsburgh, I had not made this arrangement, but within a month there was a joint party between the Gulf people and the IRS; and even though we were having all the friction at that point, I observed that it seemed that the people could get out on the golf course and realize that maybe the other ones weren't didn't have horns, and it seemed to improve communications and rapport.

Q. Did you continue that policy?

A. Yes, sir, I did.

Q. What did you consider those expenditures (the vacations provided to Niederberger by Gulf) to be, sir?

A. It was to establish a rapport to relieve tension that built up on one of these big audits. No one can imagine how difficult these audits are, both on the IRS as well as Gulf. It is a terrible, terrible procedure to go through.*fn14

Accordingly, there was ample, perhaps even overwhelming, evidence in the record to support the jury's finding that the gifts Standefer made to Niederberger were not provided solely for social reasons.

On appeal to this Court Standefer has urged, Inter alia, that three of the § 7214(a)(2) counts those based on the trips to Pompano Beach, Miami, and Absecon should have been dismissed because of Niederberger's acquittal on practically identical charges. Specifically, Standefer argues that as a matter of law he cannot be convicted of aiding and abetting a principal when that principal has been acquitted of committing the charged offense. A divided panel rejected this argument, relying on past decisions of this Court that have permitted the conviction of an aider and abettor even when the principal has been acquitted. See United States v. Bryan, 483 F.2d 88 (3d Cir. 1973) (en banc); United States v. Provenzano, 334 F.2d 678, 691 (3d Cir.), Cert. denied, 379 U.S. 947, 85 S. Ct. 440, 13 L. Ed. 2d 544 (1964); United States v. Klass, 166 F.2d 373 (3d Cir. 1948). The Court ordered rehearing In banc in order to reconsider its position in these cases and to re-examine the law in this area.


The primary issue facing the Court at this juncture, and the one that the Court In banc requested counsel to address, is whether an aider and abettor may be convicted notwithstanding the acquittal of the principal he is charged with aiding and abetting.

At common law, the prevailing rule was that an accessory to a crime could not be convicted unless and until the principal whom he had assisted had been convicted of committing the substantive offense.*fn15 If the principal were to escape, or to die, or never brought to trial, or tried and acquitted, no charges could be brought against any accessories charged with assisting him. Federal law, of course, has no common law crimes, and until 1909 an accessory to a felony could not be tried at all absent an express statutory authorization making the aiding of the principal committing that crime a crime in and of itself.*fn16 A nineteenth century federal prosecution for aiding and abetting thus required a specific "accessory provision," and several such provisions were included among the criminal statutes of the period.*fn17 In 1909, however, Congress altered this system by enacting a general rule:

Whoever directly commits any act constituting an offense defined in any law of the United States, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is a principal.*fn18

It has long been the position of most courts and commentators that, as the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put it four years after the statute was passed:

The effect of the section under consideration is to abolish the distinction between principals and accessories in offenses defined in the laws of the United States . . . . (T)he section under consideration is a recognition by Congress that the old distinction between principals and accessories which pertained to felonies is generally abrogated, and that a charge against one formerly known as an accessory is good against him as principal.*fn19

This statute, which is now codified, with some changes, at 18 U.S.C. § 2(a), rejects any distinction between a principal and an aider and abettor. Consequently, the issue presented here is more accurately phrased in terms of whether a jury's finding as to one "principal" should affect the outcome of charges brought against another "principal" involved in the same crime that is, whether the doctrine of non-mutual collateral estoppel does or should prevail at federal criminal law. But before this issue is considered, it is necessary to discuss certain questions that have arisen in regard to the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 2, despite the general acceptance accorded the interpretation set out above.

A. The Congressional Intent in Drafting 18 U.S.C. § 2.

A critical question raised in the course of the Court's In banc consideration of this case is whether the original aider and abettor statute of 1909 was intended by its drafters to be as broad as this and other courts have assumed over the last seventy years. In particular, the claim has been made, in Part IV A of the concurring and dissenting opinion by Judge Aldisert, Infra, that Congress never anticipated the use of 18 U.S.C. § 2 to allow the conviction of an aider and abettor after the principal has been acquitted.

This contention is premised on the absence of any expression of an affirmative intent on the part of Congress to bring about such a result. Implicit in such an argument is the concession that the Language of the statute states a general rule encompassing the facts of any aider and abettor case, including one where the principal has been acquitted. Despite this concession, the argument seeks to exonerate Standefer by stressing that nowhere in the legislative history did Congress unequivocally state its desire to permit the conviction of an aider and abettor once a principal has been acquitted. The solitary support for this argument is one passage of the legislative history. In the Senate Report on the Act of March 4, 1909, a Senate committee expressed its view regarding the purpose of the proposed legislation:

The committee has deemed it wise to make those who are accessories before the fact at common law principal offenders, thereby permitting their indictment and conviction for a substantive offense.

At common law an accessory cannot be tried without his consent before the conviction or outlawry of the principal except where the principal and the accessory are tried together; if the principal could not be found or if he had been indicted and refused to plead, had been pardoned or dies before conviction, the accessory could not be tried at all. This change of the existing law renders these obstacles to justice impossible.*fn20

Although the Senate Committee did not, in either the quoted passage or elsewhere, express an intention to make any exception to the general rule announced in the statute itself, namely that an aider and abettor is to be treated as a principal, it is asserted that the Senate, at least, envisioned reaching only certain "obstacles to justice" which are clearly set out in the Committee's notes. The argument proceeds that inasmuch as the situation at issue in this case where the principal has been acquitted is one of the more obvious possibilities that might arise in aider and abettor cases and is not adverted to in the report, a doubt arises whether the prior law was intended to be altered in this regard. Such a doubt, it is then asserted, must, under traditional rules of statutory construction, be resolved in favor of a criminal defendant and against the government.

We are unpersuaded that this approach yields a proper interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 2(a). The limited exception contended for by our colleagues does not appear in the language of the statute nor is it at any time specifically endorsed in the legislative history. Further, in the more than seventy years since the passage of the statute no court or commentator has ever suggested, even in passing, that the Congress sought to create or retain such a remnant of the common law rule. The entire argument is premised on the fact that a committee did not affirmatively set down, in a particular report, its intention to reach this precise class of cases.

It is true that the Supreme Court has recently employed a somewhat analogous formulation in requiring an affirmative expression of intent from Congress before it would read the facially applicable National Labor Relations Act to include in its scope parochial school teachers.*fn21 But that opinion, as well as the approach employed therein, was expressly motivated by the salutary and longstanding rule that a court is obligated, wherever possible, to avoid a construction that might raise a constitutional issue. See e.g., The Charming Betsy, 6 U.S. (2 Cranch) 64, 118, 2 L. Ed. 208 (1804). Even so, the parochial school decision drew a sharp dissent from four Justices who were unwilling to allow the absence of an affirmative expression of intent in the legislative history to alter the clear language of the statute,*fn22 even when a constitutional issue is implicated. In cases such as this one, where no constitutional concern is present, the insistence on such an affirmative expression of intent in the course of legislative hearings or in the body of a legislative report would more likely have the effect of undermining congressional authority rather than respecting Congress' desires.

The Act of March 4, 1909 is clear on its face. Both those who commit crimes and those who aid and abet their commission are placed in a single class: "principals." The statutory language does not admit to any other possibility, for the transformation from the common law rule appears to be both general and complete, there being no exceptions provided for in the statute itself. It is undeniable, of course, that courts no longer exclude evidence of the legislature's intent on the ground that the meaning of the words of a statute is plain. But neither do courts, in seeking to ascertain the purpose of a piece of legislation, disregard the words chosen by the legislature. "Illogical though it was to hold that a "plain meaning' shut off access to the very materials that might show it not to have been plain at all, it was equally wrong to deny the natural meaning of language its proper primacy; . . . "*fn23 Here the words chosen by the Congress express a general rule. Equally important, however, the legislative history itself announces a desire for general application. The very Senate Report that is relied upon to raise the question of legislative intent states unequivocally that the relevant section, along with another covering accessories after the fact, "are new only in the sense that they are made general in their application. They explain themselves."*fn24

Moreover, even as to the passage giving reasons for the change, set forth in full Supra, there is no explicit intention expressed to create the exception contended for in Standefer's behalf. Although the Senate Report lists the elimination of certain "obstacles to justice" in support of the proposed statute, there is absolutely no indication that the list purported to be all inclusive. In fact, such an assumption would, in effect, apply the canon of statutory interpretation known as Expressio unius, exclusio alterius not to the words of the statute but to the language employed in a committee report.*fn25 Our attention has been called to no instance where this approach to statutory construction has been applied; indeed, many general Congressional enactments would be seriously limited by such an interpretation. In proposing general rules congressional committees need not be expected to anticipate every possible application of the contemplated rule, nor to voice their desire to bring about all the applications they do foresee. An insistence on an affirmative expression of intent would require just such a clairvoyant legislative report and would bring many general enactments under scrutiny. Such a demanding reading of legislative history is not, in our view, in the best interests of the legislative process.

It also bears emphasizing that the statute at issue is now over seventy years old and at no time in the period since its enactment has any court or commentator adverted to this Senate Report to demonstrate that Congress' intent was being ignored. Moreover, on several occasions since 1909 Congress has had the opportunity to reform the criminal code, and, indeed, is in the process of doing so now. Yet, Congress has never sought to alter 18 U.S.C. § 2 to create the exception Judge Aldisert claims it had in mind in 1909; and this despite several cases in the federal courts giving the statute its natural meaning. Although at times it may be proper to reconsider an interpretation of a statute in light of new evidence of congressional intent, we believe that long standing interpretations of statutory language and purpose should not be lightly overturned if the law is to have any certainty and consistency.

In sum, we are not persuaded that an objective reading of the statute and its legislative history can be said to leave a doubt as to the general nature of the rule clearly enunciated therein. There is thus no basis for construing such a doubt in Standefer's favor. As Mr. Justice Frankfurter noted in Callanan v. United States, 364 U.S. 587, 81 S. Ct. 321, 5 L. Ed. 2d 312 (1961):

Petitioner invokes "the rule of lenity' for decision in this case. But that "rule', as is true of any guide to statutory construction, only serves as an aid for resolving an ambiguity; it is not to be used to beget one. . . . The rule comes into operation at the end of the process of construing what Congress has expressed, not at the beginning as an overriding consideration of being lenient to wrongdoers. That is not the function of the judiciary.*fn26

We thus reject the view that the Senate Report may be construed to raise a doubt about the general nature of the rule set out in 18 U.S.C. § 2(a).

B. The Application of 18 U.S.C. § 2 to Convict One Who Could Not Be Charged as a Principal Under the Substantive Criminal Statute.

A second concern that has been expressed is that the substantive criminal statute under which Standefer was indicted, 26 U.S.C. § 7214(a)(2), is limited in its coverage to officers and employees of the United States. Standefer, a private citizen, notes that the government employed 18 U.S.C. § 2(a) to prosecute him as an aider and abettor, when he could not have been indicted as a principal for the substantive crime. He questions whether Congress anticipated that a statute that ostensibly does no more than alter a prior system of classification would be used to expand the reach of other substantive criminal statutes that are confined to certain classes of defendants by their terms. "Congress could not have intended to amend 26 U.S.C. § 7214(a)(2) to apply to a non-Revenue Service citizen," he asserts. "The substantive offense contained in § 7214(a)(2)," the argument continues, "must be committed by an employee of the Internal Revenue Service."*fn27

This point might be somewhat convincing were it not for the 1951 amendment of the Act. But apparently the very question Standefer raised in this regard had arisen prior to 1951, because the Congress, in Section 17B of the Act of October 31, 1951, altered the language of the statute by replacing "is a principal" with "is punishable as a principal." The change was not designed to be purely formal, for Congress expressed its purpose quite clearly:

This section is intended to clarify and make certain the intent to punish aiders and abettors regardless of the fact that they may be incapable of committing the specific violation which they are charged to have aided and abetted. Some criminal statutes of title 18 are limited in terms to officers and employees of the Government, judges, judicial officers, witnesses, officers or employees or persons connected with national banks or member banks.*fn28

In light of this unambiguous statement by Congress that 18 U.S.C. § 2(a) may be used to reach one who could not be indicted as a principal, Standefer, despite his private status, may not be heard to challenge his conviction on this ground. Section 7214(a)(2) is made applicable to Standefer through 18 U.S.C. § 2(a), and he must therefore be judged, in the ...

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