On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County.
Petrella, Bilder and Muir, Jr. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bilder, J.A.D.
Following a five week jury trial defendant George Jurcsek was convicted of conspiracy to commit theft by deception, forgery and falsifying records (count 1) and theft by deception (count 2). He was sentenced to a term of 7 years on count 1 and a concurrent term of 4 years on count 2. The State, claiming an illegal sentence, cross-appeals from the 4 year sentence imposed on count 2.
To be properly understood, a description of the acts which led to these convictions must be preceded by a short explanation of the milieu in which the defendant lived and operated. Defendant, together with varying numbers of others, at times totaling over 30, belonged to a communal group known as the Circle of Friends. Defendant Jurcsek was the founder and head of the group. Evidence presented by the State showed the group to be authoritarian and collectivist in nature. Obedience to the leader, defendant Jurcsek, was complete. All monies obtained by any member were turned over to the group.*fn1 Outside contacts, including with relatives, was discouraged as were personal relationships between the men and women in the group. The members were principally young and college educated.
According to the State's proofs, in 1979 defendant Jurcsek formulated a plan, known as the student loan project, to obtain monies from banks in the form of student loans. The scheme contemplated that members of the group would apply for
government guaranteed student loans, ostensibly intended as financial aid to attend college, but actually intended by defendant Jurcsek to be turned over to the group without any intention that the loan would be repaid or that the applicant attend school. To maximize the numbers of loans, members not only acted in their own names but enrolled in schools and applied for loans in the names of other members of the group. The fruits of the scheme, in the form of checks made out to the supposed student/applicant were cashed and the proceeds turned over to the group. Over a period from 1979 to 1983, the group obtained some $150,000, most of which had been repaid by the time of trial.
On appeal, defendant makes the following contentions:
POINT I: The Conviction And Sentence On Count One, Charging Conspiracy, Must Be Vacated And Dismissed Because The Conspiracy Conviction Merges With The Conviction On The Substantive Count Two.
POINT II: The Trial Judge Erroneously Admitted Extensive "Background" Evidence Concerning The Community's Lifestyle And Structure, To A Degree Which Unduly Prejudiced Defendant Before The Jury.
POINT III: The Trial Judge Erred In Denying Defendant's Mistrial Motions, And In Submitting The Case To The Jury, In The Wake Of Two Incidents Which Incurably Prejudiced Defendant In The Eyes Of That Jury.
B. The Trial Judge's Examination Of Jurors Regarding These Two Incidents Was Inadequate.
C. The Trial Judge Erred In Denying Defendant's Motions For A Mistrial, Under These Circumstances.
POINT IV: The Manner In Which The Trial Judge Conducted Jury Voir Dire Proceedings Deprived Defendant Of His Right To Exercise Informed ...