United States District Court, D. New Jersey
G. SHERIDAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Amaechi Antwan Ahuama, has filed a pro se motion to
vacate, set aside or correct his sentence pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2255. For the following reasons, this Court
will deny the motion.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
February 2007 and October 2012, Petitioner, his co-defendants
and unknown co-conspirators, worked together in an effort to
steal several millions dollars in a scheme where they
fraudulently induced victims to pay fees to secure
non-existent funds or assets. (See Presentence
Investigation Report, hereinafter ("PSR") at ¶
2) The fraudulently obtained money was obtained from
victims' bank accounts in multiple states including New
Jersey. (Id. at ¶ 35)
conspiracy had varying categories of responsibilities, which
included that of a "catcher,"
"handler," and "account holder."
(Id. at ¶¶ 26-27, 29) A catcher
"primarily operated overseas and w[as] tasked with
identifying potential victims of the Advance Fee Fraud"
and subsequently "sent emails out in mass quantity to
various email addresses." (Id. at ¶ 26) A
handler "primarily operated in the United States, and
contacted the victims by email, phone, and sometimes in
person, in furtherance of the Advance Fee Fraud.
(Id. at ¶ 27) Finally, the "account
holder" which Petitioner was identified as, "opened
and/or managed one or more bank accounts used to receive
fraudulently induced fee payments from the victims
("Drop Accounts"). (Id. at ¶ 29) The
money obtained from the scheme was split between catchers,
handlers and account holders. (Id. at ¶ 31)
However, some account holders also acted as handlers and
handled victims of their own. (Id.)
controlled a drop account in the name of "Cell Phone
Unlimited LLC," which was used to receive the
fraudulently induced payments. (Id. at ¶ 45) In
December of 2011, the Cobb County, Georgia Sheriffs Office
was contacted by an individual, D.L., to report fraud.
(Id. at ¶ 58) D.L. had already sent over $150,
000 to an individual who he believed to be in Ghana.
(Id.) D.L. also provided that he made deposits into
a Bank of America account that belonged to A A Global
Investments, located in Powder Springs, Georgia.
(Id. at ¶ 59) An investigator later verified
that AA Global Investments was a registered corporation in
Georgia established on November 2, 2011, that listed
Petitioner as the sole officer of the corporation.
(Id. at ¶ 60) The Georgia authorities verified
the existence of the Bank of America account which D.L.
reported he deposited money into, and bank representatives
advised that the account had numerous transfers into it and
funds withdrawn locally. (Id. at ¶ 61) Bank of
America subsequently blocked the account, prompting
Petitioner to call the bank the following day. (Id.)
The bank referred Petitioner to the Sheriffs Office, who in
turn advised him to report to the office for an interview.
(Id.) Petitioner agreed to do so but had no further
contact with the law enforcement officers. (Id.)
investigation also uncovered that Petitioner had filed
letters of incorporation with the Georgia Secretary of
State's Office for several companies between 2007 and
2011. (Id. at ¶ 63)
petitioner was arrested on January 11, 2013. (See
PSR at ¶ 64) On October 17, 2013, Petitioner was
indicted in a twelve-count second superseding indictment.
(Id. at ¶ 4)
April 24, 2015, Petitioner pled guilty to laundering of money
instruments in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§
1956(a)(1)(A)(i), and (B)(i), and (B)(ii). (PSR ¶ 70)
to sentencing, the United States Probation Office prepared a
PSR. The PSR determined that the offense carried a base
offense level of 8, however because the value of the
laundered funds was more than $1, 500, 000 but less than $3,
500, 000, a sixteen-level increase was imposed resulting in a
24-base offense level. (See PSR at ¶¶ 70,
120) Petitioner also received a two-level enhancement
pursuant to United States Sentencing Guidelines (hereinafter,
"USSG") § 3B1.1(a) because the offense of
conviction was in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956.
(Id. at ¶ 121) Additionally, a two-level
increase was imposed pursuant to USSG § 2S 1.1 (b)(3),
because (A) subsection (b)(2)(B) applied and (B) the offense
involved sophisticated laundering. (PSR ¶ 122) The PSR
then decreased the total offense level by two for acceptance
of responsibility under § 3E1.1(a) and one level
pursuant to § 3E1.1(b)(2). (Id. at
¶¶¶ 118, 128-129) Thus, the PSR calculated a
total offense level of 25. (Id. at ¶ 130) The
PSR determined a criminal history score of 0 and a
corresponding criminal history category of I. (Id.
at ¶ 163) Petitioner's total offense level and
criminal history category resulted in a guideline
imprisonment range of 57 to 71 months and a supervised
release term of one to three years. (Id. at
¶¶ 160, 163)
Petitioner's sentencing hearing on April 7, 2016, the
Court granted a two-level downward variance because of the
disparity in sentencing among the co-defendants which
resulted in a 23-total offense level and a sentencing range
of 46-57 months. (ECF No. 15-1 at 74-75) The Court sentenced
Petitioner to a low-end guidelines-range sentence of
48-months followed by three years of supervised release.
(Id. at 75)
thereafter, Petitioner appealed his sentence to the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. United
States v. Ahuama, 686 Fed.Appx. 82 (3d Cir. 2017).
Before affirming Petitioner's conviction and sentence,
the Third Circuit rejected all but one of Petitioner's
claims, which was an ineffective assistance claim that it
considered best suited for collateral review. Id. at
then filed a pro se § 2255 motion and a subsequent
amended motion in this Court. (ECF Nos. 1, 3) Petitioner
raises the following claims in his petition.
1. "Counsel's performance fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness at the sentencing phase of the
proceedings by failing to ensure that I received the proper
2. "District Court's failure to include the two
level downward adjustment that the court had previously
3. "Restitution hearing more than ninety days after I
had pled guilty."
4. "District Court erred in the victim loss calculation
and restitution determination by holding me responsible, both
jointly and severally liable for the entire loss
(ECF No. 3 at 6-10)
filed a response in opposition to petitioner's §
2255 motion. (ECF No. 15)
LEGAL STANDARD FOR § 2255 MOTION
motion to vacate, set aside or correct a sentence of a person
in federal custody pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 entitles
a prisoner to relief if "the court finds . .. [t]here
has been such a denial or infringement of the constitutional
rights of the prisoner as to render judgment vulnerable to
collateral attack." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b). "In
considering a motion to vacate a defendant's sentence,
'the court must accept the truth of the movant's
factual allegations unless they are clearly frivolous based
on the existing record.'" United States v.
Booth, 432 F.3d 542, 545 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting
Gov't of Virgin Islands v. Forte, 865 F.2d 59,
62 (3d Cir. 1989)) (citing R. Governing § 2255 Cases R.
4(b)). A District Court "is required to hold an
evidentiary hearing 'unless the motion and files and
records of the case show conclusively that the movant is not
entitled to relief" Id. (quoting
Forte, 865 F.2d at 62). The Third Circuit has stated
that this standard creates a '"reasonably low
threshold for habeas petitioners to meet.'"
Id. (quoting United States v. McCoy, 410
F.3d 124, 134 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Phillips v.
Woodford, 267 F.3d 966, 973 (9th Cir. 2001))).
Accordingly, this Court abuses its discretion "if it
fails to hold an evidentiary hearing when the files and
records of the case are inconclusive as to whether the movant
is entitled to relief." Id. (citing
McCoy, 410 F.3d at 134).
first claim, Petitioner's asserts that trial counsel was
ineffective. Petitioner was represented by Michael A.