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United States v. Raia

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 22, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
FRANCIS RAIA.

          OPINION

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

         Defendant Francis Raia ("Defendant") was convicted of knowingly and intentionally conspiring to commit an offense against the United States using the mail, contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a)(3) (Travel Act) and in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Conspiracy Against the United States). Indictment ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. Now before the Court is Defendant's motion for a new trial. ECF Nos. 54, 57 ("Motion"). Oral argument was held on October 21, 2019. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant's brief fairly represents the facts of this case and each parties' position.

In 2013, Mr. Raia ran for Hoboken city council along with a slate of other candidates. In addition, Mr. Raia supported a ballot referendum that would allow certain landlords to reset the base rents on certain vacant rent-controlled units to the market rate. As part of the campaign, Mr. Raia employed a get out the vote strategy that focused voters in the Hoboken Housing Authority [("HHA")], by soliciting their vote by mail vote. [Raia argued] the campaign sought to enlist many of these same individuals to work on Election Day by publicizing the campaign, wearing t-shirts, and handing out campaign literature. These individuals would be paid $50 for their work.
The Government's case against Mr. Raia accused that he enlisted confidants to approach voters in [HHA] Housing, and ordered that those confidants offer voters $50 in exchange for the voter casting a mail in ballot for the candidates and questions Mr. Raia supported. The Government also alleged that in connection with this plan, Mr. Raia demanded that he be permitted to inspect the completed ballots before they were submitted to the Board of Elections, Mr. Raia engaged a middleman to process checks to these voters in order to conceal the payments, and had other individuals complete mandatory New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission ("ELEC") reports.

Mot. at 2. On June 25, 2019, a jury convicted Defendant of being part of a conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, namely, by violating the Travel Act.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Defendant posits two reasons he must be granted a new trial: (1) because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and (2) because the prosecution mischaracterized the evidence, creating a substantial possibility that the verdict was tainted.

         A. Weight of the Evidence

         "Upon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 33(a) ("Rule 33"). The Third Circuit has described the rules governing a Rule 33 "weight of the evidence" motion as follows:

A district court can order a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence only if it believes that there is a serious danger that a miscarriage of justice has occurred-that is, that an innocent person has been convicted. Unlike an insufficiency of the evidence claim, when a district court evaluates a Rule 33 motion it does not view the evidence favorably to the Government, but instead exercises its own judgment in assessing the Government's case.

United States v. Brennan, 326 F.3d 176, 189 (3d Cir. 2003) (cleaned up). "Motions for a new trial based on the weight of the evidence are not favored. Such motions are to be granted sparingly and only in exceptional cases." Id.

         Here, Defendant argues for a new trial because "[t]he Government relied heavily on Calicchio, Holmes, and Frazier to make this case to the jury, but their testimony was too unreliable to form the basis of any case." Mot. at 6. That is not sufficient. First, Calicchio, Holmes, and Frazier's testimony was not so patently unreliable that the Court must throw it out and overturn the jury's determination. Second, the Court is not convinced ...


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