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Esposito v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 19, 2019

MICHAEL ESPOSITO Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          AMENDED OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         This 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Charged Crime

         Esposito 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.

         B. Relevant Criminal Proceedings

         Esposito 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.

         At 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.

         C. The 2255 Petition

         Esposito 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.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review under Section 2255

         A 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) (citation omitted).

         B. Ineffective ...


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