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United States v. Rivers

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
FRED RIVERS

         Not for Publication

          OPINION

          Esther Salas, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         After the close of the Government’s evidence in this matter, counsel for defendant Fred Rivers (“Defendant”) made an “oral application for a Rule 29 motion for judgment of acquittal.” (D.E. No. 70 (“Vol. II”) at 457:7–9). Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(b), the Court “reserve[d] its decision on [D]efendant’s motion and . . . proceed[ed] with trial.” (Id. at 457:15– 18). The jury ultimately acquitted Defendant on Count One of the Indictment (D.E. No. 11)- receiving bribes in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(2)(A) & (C)-but convicted him on Count Two-conspiring to defraud the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. (D.E. No. 62; D.E. No. 68 (“Vol. IV”) at 715:5–18).

         On July 25, 2019, Defendant formally moved with a “Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal [on Count Two] pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c), or in the alternative, Motion for a New Trial pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 33” (D.E. No. 72 (“Def. Br.”) at 1), which the Government opposed (D.E. No. 73 (“Gov. Br.”)). The Court has considered the record and the parties’ briefs and, for the reasons discussed below, DENIES Defendant’s motion.

         II. Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal

         A. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, the Court “must uphold the jury’s verdict unless no reasonable juror could accept the evidence as sufficient to support the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Fattah, 914 F.3d 112, 182–83 (3d Cir. 2019) (emphasis added). In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, [1] the Court must view the evidence in the “light most favorable” to the Government, id. at 183, and “must be ever vigilant . . . not to usurp the role of the jury by weighing credibility and assigning weight to the evidence, or by substituting its judgment for that of the jury.” United States v. Flores, 454 F.3d 149, 154 (3d Cir. 2006). “A finding of insufficiency should be confined to cases where the prosecution’s failure is clear.” United States v. Brodie, 403 F.3d 123, 133 (3d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). Hence “[t]he burden on a defendant who raises a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is extremely high.” United States v. Lore, 430 F.3d 190, 203 (3d Cir. 2005).

         B. Overview of Count Two

         “To sustain its burden of proof on the crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States, the [G]overnment had to prove [beyond a reasonable doubt]: (1) the existence of an agreement; (2) an overt act by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the objective; and (3) an intent on the part of the conspirators to agree as well as to defraud the United States.” United States v. Gambone, 314 F.3d 163, 176 (3d Cir. 2003). More specifically, Jury Instruction Number 16-based on the Circuit’s Model Criminal Jury Instruction 6.18.371A and not contested by either party-defines the elements of Count Two as follows:

First: That two or more persons agreed “to defraud the United States, ” as charged in the Indictment. “Defraud the United States, ” means to cheat the United States government or any of its agencies out of money or property. It also means to obstruct or interfere with one of the United States government’s lawful functions, by deceit, craft, trickery, or dishonest means;
Second: That the defendant was a party to or member of that agreement;
Third: That the defendant joined the agreement or conspiracy knowing of its objective to defraud the United States and intending to join together with at least one other conspirator to achieve that objective; that is, that the defendant and at least one other alleged conspirator shared a unity of purpose and the intent to achieve a common goal or objective, to defraud the United States; and
Fourth: That at some time during the existence of the agreement or conspiracy, at least one of its members performed an overt act in order to further ...

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