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UNITED STATES v. LAWSON

September 25, 1981

UNITED STATES of America and United States Postal Service, Plaintiffs,
v.
Gordon F. LAWSON, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BROTMAN

On March 21, 1980, the plaintiffs, the United States of America and the United States Postal Service, instituted this action under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 231, *fn1" against the defendant Gordon F. Lawson for the recovery of money damages and forfeitures as a result of defendant's alleged false, fictitious, and fraudulent claims. Jurisdiction is predicated on 28 U.S.C. § 1345, 31 U.S.C. § 232, 39 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., and 39 U.S.C. § 2601. Currently before the court are the plaintiffs' motion, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, for summary judgment as to Count I of the Complaint and the defendant's motions, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), to dismiss each of the counts for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I. FACTS

 On February 27, 1977, the main post office, Atlantic City, New Jersey, was robbed of stamps, in the amount of $ 371,788.15, cash in the amount of $ 25,368.00 and checks and money orders amounting to $ 19,230.25. In addition, certain items belonging to private persons including savings bonds, treasury notes, travelers checks and registered items amounting to $ 636,570.41 were also stolen from the custody of the United States Postal Service. At the time of the robbery, the defendant, Gordon F. Lawson, was the Postmaster of the main post office.

 On March 4, 1977, through efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, certain items stolen in the robbery were recovered. Among these items were $ 371,667.15 worth of stamps and $ 521,108.00 worth of private items. Also, the United States Postal Service was able to accomplish the replacement of $ 17,446.41 worth of checks and money orders by the makers where the makers could be identified by the Postal Service. As a result of the various efforts of the FBI and the Postal Service, the amount of postage loss remaining after the March 4, 1977 recoveries was $ 121.00. None of the cash was recovered; therefore, the loss remained at $ 25,368.00. The amount of checks and money orders which could not be replaced amounted to $ 1,783.84.

 Among the private items stolen from the private registers was a registry item no. 0462 containing precious jewelry and diamonds valued at $ 9,225.00. On March 11, 1977, Galt Plaza Auction Galleries submitted a claim, PS Form 565, Registered Mail Inquiry and Application for Indemnity, in the amount of $ 9,225.00 plus postage of 46( . On July 26, 1977, this claim was paid by United States Treasury check in the amount of $ 9,225.46. On March 29, 1977, claim no. 0462 had been approved by the Registry Claims Clerk acting on behalf of Gordon Lawson.

 In addition, stolen during the robbery was registry item no. 52267, a yellow-gold 14k charm. A PS Form 565 claim was presented to the Postal Service from Bailey, Banks and Biddle on March 11, 1977, in the amount of $ 135.00 plus postage of 79( . On May 10, 1977, this claim was paid by United States Treasury check in the amount of $ 135.79. On March 15, 1977, this claim had been approved by the Registry Claims Clerk acting on behalf of Gordon Lawson.

 On March 3, 1977, Martin A. Conroy, Jr., a United States Postal Service Postal Inspector, and Jake Vendor, a Postal Systems Examiner, met with Gordon Lawson in his office at the main post office. At this meeting, Lawson was presented with PS Form 561-A, entitled U.S. POSTAL SERVICE ACCOUNTS STATEMENT RE LOSS BY BURGLARY, THEFT, FIRE, TORNADO, OR FLOOD, for his verification of the correctness of the figures in regard to the losses resulting from the robbery. Lawson took an oath and swore that the statement, PS Form 561-A, was a true and correct statement of the financial condition at his post office, and he signed the form. Also during this meeting, Conroy asked Lawson if he were involved or had any knowledge of the robbery. Lawson indicated he was not involved and had no knowledge of the event.

 Later, pursuant to an investigation of the FBI, it was learned that beginning on or about January 18, 1977, until the date of the robbery on February 27, 1977, Gordon Lawson had conspired with four others to rob the Atlantic City main post office. On May 31, 1977, Lawson was indicted with his four co-conspirators by a federal grand jury in the District of New Jersey and charged with three separate counts. The first count charged conspiracy in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. § 371; the second count, robbery of the Atlantic City Post Office in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 2114 and 2; and the third count, robbery by putting in jeopardy the life of another by use of a dangerous weapon, that is a handgun, in violation of Title 18, U.S.C. §§ 2114 and 2.

 On September 27, 1977, Mr. Lawson, in the presence of his attorney, entered a guilty plea to all three counts before the Hon. John F. Gerry, Judge, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Mr. Lawson's guilty plea was accepted. On January 5, 1978, Judge Gerry sentenced Mr. Lawson on Count I to five years and a $ 5,000.00 fine; on Count II to the mandatory 25 years and on Count III, to the mandatory 25 years; all counts to run concurrently. The Judge ordered that Mr. Lawson would be eligible for parole after serving seven (7) years.

 II. DISCUSSION COUNTS I, II, III

 As noted above, plaintiffs have moved, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, for summary judgment as to Count I of the Complaint, while defendant has moved, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), to dismiss all counts for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In analyzing Counts I, II, and III, the court has considered matters outside the pleadings. Thus, the defendant's motions as to these three counts shall also be treated as ones for summary judgment.

 Special Jet Services v. Federal Insurance Co., 643 F.2d 977, 980 (3rd Cir. 1981) (Brotman, J.) (Citations Omitted).

 In a commendable effort to narrow the issues, the plaintiffs and the defendant have agreed, in their briefs, as to the relevant questions before the court. All parties have indicated that judgment on Counts I, II, and III of the Complaint turns on whether the defendant's actions in submitting form 561-A (Count I) or submitting the claims for the private register items (Counts II and III) are false claims within the ...


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