United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court on pro se Petitioner
Michael Esposito's 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion seeking
to set aside his conviction and sentence on grounds of
ineffective assistance of counsel and having entered a guilty
plea that was not knowing and voluntary. No. oral argument
was held. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons stated below,
Esposito's motion is DENIED.
The Charged Crime
used investment funds solicited from victims arising out of a
Ponzi scheme that involved purchasing and reselling consumer
products. Crim Dkt. Compl. ¶¶ 1-3, ECF No. 1.
Instead of investing the money to purchase products, Esposito
used his victims' money for personal expenses and to pay
off other investors for his own benefit. Id.
Relevant Criminal Proceedings
pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging him with
wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343. Crim.
Dkt., Plea Agreement, ECF No. 17. During the plea colloquy,
Esposito asserted under oath that he understood the plea
agreement's terms and stipulations, the wire fraud charge
against him, and the possible sentence. Gov't Answer,
Plea Hr'g Tr. 5-7, ECF No. 5-4. Esposito acknowledged and
agreed that in signing the plea agreement: (1) he was
satisfied with his counsel's representation, id.
at 3:7-9, (2) he was not threatened or coerced to plead
guilty, id. at 4:13-15, and (3) he knowingly,
willfully, and intentionally engaged in a fraudulent scheme
that caused victims to lose over $550, 000. Id. at
13:18-24. The Court then found Esposito's plea to be
knowing and voluntary. Id. at 14:17-15:3.
sentencing, the Court addressed two outstanding Federal
Sentencing Guidelines (“Guidelines”) issues: (1)
the loss amount and (2) whether Esposito's conduct
warranted a two-level “sophisticated means”
sentencing enhancement. Gov't Answer, Sent. Hr'g Tr.
6, 11, ECF No. 5-5. The Court agreed with Esposito that the
loss was less than $1, 500, 000, id. at 15:19-21,
and accepted the parties' plea agreement stipulation that
the two-level enhancement for sophisticated means did not
apply, id. at 13:22-14:7. Thus, while the Government
determined the applicable Guidelines range was 41 to 51
months, the Court found the applicable Guidelines range was
33 to 41 months. Id. at 14-15. The Court then
sentenced Esposito to 39 months' imprisonment.
Id. at 31:11-16. Esposito appealed neither his
conviction or sentence.
The 2255 Petition
argues his conviction and sentence should be set aside since
he received ineffective assistance of counsel and his guilty
plea was neither knowing nor voluntary. Specifically,
Esposito contends his retained counsel: (1) failed to
investigate facts as to the victim enhancement; (2) failed to
demand a factual basis for his guilty plea; (3) failed to
explain to him the consequences of pleading guilty; (4) was
ignorant about the applicable sentencing law; (5) failed to
file for full discovery; (6) was unprepared at sentencing;
and (7) made no attempt to dismiss the indictment. Pet.'s
Br. 2, ECF No. 1-1. The Government responds that
Esposito's claims lack merit because he fails to satisfy
his burden to show ineffective assistance of counsel.
Gov't Answer 9, ECF No. 5.
Standard of Review under Section 2255
prisoner in federal custody may “move the court which
imposed [his] sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the
sentence” if “the sentence was imposed in
violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States,
or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such
sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum
authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral
attack.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A court must conduct
“an evidentiary hearing ‘unless the motion and
files and records of the case show conclusively that the
movant is not entitled to relief.” United States v.
Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting
Gov't of the V.I. v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59, 62 (3d
Cir. 1989)). It is court policy to give pro se
habeas petitions a “liberal construction.”
Rainey v. Varner, 603 F.3d 189, 198 (3d Cir. 2010)