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United States v. Hoover-Hankerson

December 30, 2005

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
CELICIA HOOVER-HANKERSON, BENJAMIN HOOVER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

A trial jury convicted defendants Celicia Hoover-Hankerson and Benjamin Hoover of conspiracy, two counts of theft from programs receiving federal funds and two counts of fraud in the first degree. That same day, the defendants moved for and were granted a two-week extension of time under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c)(1) to renew their motions for judgment of acquittal. Both defendants timely moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the government failed to produce sufficient evidence to convict them. Both defendants also moved at the end of that two-week period for a new trial under Rule 33. Because the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain defendants' new trial motions, those motions will be denied. Because the government produced sufficient evidence to sustain the verdicts rendered against both defendants on Counts 1, 2, 4, and 5, and against Hoover-Hankerson on Count 3, defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal will be denied as to those counts. Because the government did not produce sufficient evidence to prove Count 3 against Hoover, judgment of acquittal will be granted on that count as to him.

BACKGROUND

The defendants were indicted for conspiracy to commit theft from a witness voucher program receiving federal funds in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (2000) (Count 1); theft from a witness voucher program receiving federal funds and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 666(a)(1)(A) and 2 (Count 2); theft from an investigator voucher program receiving federal funds and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 666(a)(1)(A) and 2 (Count 3); and fraud in the first degree with respect to the witness vouchers and investigator vouchers, in violation of D.C. Code §§ 22-3821(a), 22-3822(a)(1) (1981)*fn1 (Counts 4 and 5 respectively). The following evidence, recited in the light most favorable to the verdict, see United States v. Campbell, 702 F.2d 262, 264 (D.C. Cir. 1983), was produced during the course of the seven-day trial.

I. WITNESS VOUCHERS

An indigent criminal defendant entitled to appointed counsel pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act ("CJA") may have a defense witness paid a witness fee by check drawn on public funds under District of Columbia Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 113. Attorneys appointed by the court may obtain blank witness fee vouchers from the court's voucher office for use in the defense of indigent criminal defendants. The voucher office will not release blank witness vouchers to non-attorneys. The attorneys must present identification, sign a log book for the vouchers issued, and safeguard the vouchers that they sign out. After January 28, 2002, the District of Columbia courts revised their policies to better implement Rule 113 by requiring any attorney requesting a witness voucher to present supporting documentation, such as a subpoena, to certify that the witness was compelled to attend court proceedings. Attorneys report when vouchers are lost and stolen. The court will void a lost or stolen voucher and notify its internal audit groups.

To be paid, the witness must certify on a witness voucher that he was compelled by subpoena to attend as a witness on behalf of the defendant and did attend the criminal case. The defense lawyer also must sign the voucher certifying the witness's attendance. The witness fee is $40.00 for one day's attendance.

Hoover-Hankerson, a CJA attorney, signed out 2,087 witness vouchers under the District of Columbia Superior Court CJA voucher program between October 1, 1998 and February 7, 2001. The average number of such vouchers signed out by CJA attorneys during the same time period was 61. Hoover-Hankerson did not report that any vouchers signed out by her were lost or stolen.

Superior Court voucher office employee Vicki Jeter came to know Hoover-Hankerson because of the frequency with which Hoover-Hankerson would appear to sign out vouchers. Jeter stated that Hoover-Hankerson signed out more vouchers than any of the other attorneys, at times twice in one week or every other day. Jeter sometimes saw Hoover or Troy Robinson, both defense investigators, accompanying Hoover-Hankerson when she signed out vouchers. Employee Beatrice Pearson saw Hoover-Hankerson accompanied by Hoover on some occasions when Hoover-Hankerson signed out vouchers. Robinson testified that he and Hoover had passed out false witness vouchers from 1998 to 2002.

The jury heard from several individuals who cashed witness vouchers that had been issued in blank by the voucher office to Hoover-Hankerson and purportedly signed by Hoover-Hankerson before being cashed. Antonio Brown had received witness vouchers on a number of occasions from Robinson, a childhood acquaintance. At Robinson's direction, Brown would sign and take the vouchers to the Superior Court to cash them. He would receive a $40.00 check for a voucher and after cashing it, keep $15.00 (or half) and turn over the remainder to Robinson on 17th Street. Brown would see Hoover with Robinson when Robinson handed Brown vouchers and when Brown turned over some of the proceeds. Brown heard Hoover referred to as "Ben." Brown had never been subpoenaed for or appeared as a witness in the cases which were the subjects of the vouchers. The signature lines for the certifying attorneys on his vouchers contained what appeared to him to be the same signature. He had never met Hoover-Hankerson, and he did not know the source of Robinson's vouchers.

Marvin Brown had known Robinson for decades, but did not know Hoover-Hankerson. Robinson or Hoover would give Marvin Brown witness vouchers at either 17th and Euclid Streets or near the Superior Court buildings. Marvin Brown had never been subpoenaed for a case and he never appeared in a case. He had seen Robinson and Hoover together on multiple occasions when he would get vouchers. He had also seen Hoover pass out vouchers to other individuals in the 17th and Euclid Streets area. Marvin Brown would cash the vouchers, keep $15.00 or $20.00 per voucher, and give the rest to whoever had given him the voucher. He gave Hoover proceeds from one voucher in front of a liquor store on 6th Street.*fn2

Michael Taylor also cashed witness vouchers for cases for which he was never subpoenaed and for which he never appeared. His first involvement with witness vouchers occurred when Robinson approached him to meet at 601 Indiana Avenue to get the vouchers. There were eight to ten individuals there, including Hoover. The entire group walked over to the Superior Court to cash the vouchers and took the checks to a local liquor store. Taylor kept $15.00 per voucher and gave the rest to Robinson. Hoover was there when Taylor returned some of the voucher proceeds to Robinson. Hoover accompanied Taylor to the liquor store on more than one occasion to cash the checks. Taylor saw others give Hoover voucher proceeds four to five times.

Taylor saw Hoover and Robinson together at 601 Indiana Avenue eight to ten times when he went there to obtain vouchers. He saw Hoover-Hankerson on four to five separate occasions when Robinson or Hoover would go into a room with Hoover-Hankerson and return to Taylor with vouchers. Taylor never had direct interaction with Hoover-Hankerson, and Robinson and Hoover never spoke directly to Hoover-Hankerson in his presence. However, Taylor noticed that Hoover, Robinson, and Hoover-Hankerson would engage in secretive behavior and close the door each time they went into the office.

The government introduced paid witness vouchers that purported to have the name Hoover-Hankerson signed on the signature line for the attorney. Handwriting expert Brittany King opined that 471 of 864 attorney signatures on 427 different vouchers were written by the same individual. King concluded that similarities in an additional 382 of the signatures suggested that those signatures were written by the same individual. Her examination was inconclusive as to eleven of the 864 attorney signatures.

Hoover was employed as an investigator in Washington, D.C. by his wholly owned business, Hoover Investigations. In addition, he was variously employed at three other locations in Maryland: E and G Classics, Victor Cullen Academy, and St. Bernardine Catholic School. There were 246 witness vouchers signed out from the voucher office with the name Hoover-Hankerson appearing in the log book attorney signature column that were ultimately processed for payment from October 5, 1998 to December 11, 2001 certifying that Hoover had appeared as a witness in a case. Hoover did not submit any witness vouchers after the Superior Court revised its policies on January 28, 2002, requiring an attorney seeking to obtain a blank witness voucher to first produce proof that a witness had in fact been compelled to testify. Among the appearance dates and times listed on those vouchers were at least eight dates and times on which Hoover's time and attendance log at one of his Maryland places of employment reflected Hoover's presence there.

Hoover-Hankerson's husband, Ernest Hankerson, was employed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He submitted 328 witness vouchers with her name signed on them. Two hundred ninety-four of those vouchers claimed appearances at times when his time and ...


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