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United States v. Turner

July 12, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
PETER R. TURNER, LATANYA ANDREWS, AND THELMA LEONARD, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently before the Court is Defendant Thelma Leonard's Motion for Severance and Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support Thereof. Upon a searching examination of Defendant Leonard's motion, the Government's Opposition, the relevant case law, and the entire record herein, the Court shall deny Defendant Leonard's Motion for Severance at this time.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 31, 2006, Peter R. Turner, LaTanya Andrews, and Thelma Leonard were indicted in this district in a three-count indictment charging each of them with conspiracy to fraudulently obtain money from the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance ("FEGLI") program, a group term life insurance program established by the government, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 ("Conspiracy to Commit Offense or to Defraud United States"), and Andrews and Turner each were also charged with one count of bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b) ("Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses"). Andrews was a payroll technician for the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (hereinafter, "DVAMC"), Turner was a volunteer driver for the DVAMC, and Leonard was an associate of Turner. See Indictment ¶¶ 1-3. The Indictment was unsealed on February 8, 2006.

The Indictment alleges that Turner, Andrews, and Leonard conspired between December 8, 2000 through on or about January 10, 2006, id. ¶ 7, to file a forged FEGLI form falsely designating Turner as a one-half life-insurance beneficiary for Vester Mayo, a fellow employee of the DVAMC and his former girlfriend, id. ¶ 5, in Mayo's official personnel folder, id. ¶¶ 9-10. Andrews allegedly used her position as an employee of the DVAMC to cause the forged FEGLI form to be included in Mayo's official DVAMC personnel folder. Id. ¶ 12. Leonard allegedly assisted the conspiracy by signing the forged beneficiary form as a signature witness knowing that it had not been signed by Mayo. Id. ¶ 11.

On or about December 8, 2000, while still an active employee of the DVAMC and while insured under the FEGLI program, Mayo suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. Id. ¶ 6. Shortly thereafter, Mayo lapsed into a coma and died on or about December 22, 2000. Id. Following her death and the alleged completion of the conspiracy's plans, Turner then filed a claim with the FEGLI program, obtaining a payment of approximately $20,500. Id. ¶ 21. Allegedly in return for their loyalty and assistance in the scheme, Turner paid Andrews $1,000 from the proceeds on or about February 7, 2001, id. ¶ 22, and later -- on or about July 16, 2002 -- paid another $1,000 to Leonard's spouse, who is now deceased, for the Leonards' cooperation, id. ¶ 23.

Following Defendants' arraignments in February 2006, this Court held a series of status conferences with Defendants present. Following the April 6, 2006 status conference, the Court set a schedule for various pre-trial filings, including any motions to suppress or motions for severance. Pursuant to the Court's schedule, Defendant Leonard has submitted a motion for severance, to which the Government has filed an Opposition.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendant Leonard's current motion requests that she be severed from her co-defendants and provided a separate trial under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14. See Def. Leonard's Mot. for Severance at 2, ¶ 4. In general, it is preferred for defendants who are named in the same indictment to be tried jointly. See Zafiro v. United States, 506 U.S. 534, 537, 113 S.Ct. 933, 122 L.Ed.2d 317 (1993); United States v. White, 116 F.3d 903, 916 (D.C. Cir. 1997) ("[t]he Supreme Court has found a general preference for joint trials in the federal system, based on the interests of efficiency and a reduced risk of inconsistent verdicts") (citation omitted); United States v. Gibbs, 904 F.2d 52, 56 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("This court, however, has repeatedly declared that joint trials may be preferred, given the heavy and increasing criminal load in our courts.") (citing United States v. Manner, 887 F.2d 317, 324 (D.C. Cir. 1989)). Joint trials are preferred for a variety of reasons, including judicial efficiency and consistent verdicts, as the Supreme Court explained in Buchanan v. Kentucky, 483 U.S. 402, 107 S.Ct. 2906, 97 L.Ed.2d 336 (1987):

Underlying the Commonwealth's interest in a joint trial is a related interest in promoting the reliability and consistency of the judicial process, an interest that may well benefit the non-capital defendant as well. In joint trials, the jury obtains a more complete view of all the acts underlying the charges than would be possible in separate trials. From such a prospective, it may be able to arrive more reliably at its conclusions regarding the guilt or innocence of a particular defendant and to assign fairly the respective responsibilities of each defendant in sentencing.

Id. at 418, 107 S.Ct. 2906; see also Zafiro, 506 U.S. at 537 ("[j]oint trials 'play a vital role in the criminal justice system.' . . . They promote efficiency and 'serve the interests of justice by avoiding scandal and inequity of inconsistent verdicts.'") (quoting Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 209-10, 107 S.Ct. 1702, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987)).

The preference for a joint trial is even stronger in this Circuit in cases involving multiple defendants faced with a conspiracy charge -- i.e., "where . . . the respective charges require presentation of much the same evidence, testimony of the same witnesses, and involve two [or more] defendants who are charged, inter alia, with participating in the same illegal acts." United States v. Ford, 870 F.2d 729, 731 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (Starr, J.)); see also United States v. Simmons, --- F. Supp. 2d ----, Nos. Crim. 157(RCL), 02-45(RCL), 2006 WL 1217281, at *25 (D.D.C. May 2, 2006) (noting that joinder in this Circuit has been held "presumptively proper where the alleged acts are part of the same series of acts or transactions"). "'The preference for a joint trial of multiple defendants in conspiracy cases reflects the sound policy of joinder where charges may be proven with substantially the same evidence.'" United States v. Edelin, 118 F. Supp. 2d 36, 40 (D.D.C. 2000) (quoting United States v. Aiken, 76 F. Supp. 2d 1346, 1352 (S.D.Fla. 1999)). "'Rarely, if ever, will it be improper for co-conspirators to be tried together.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Jackson, 64 F.3d 1213, 1217 (8th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted)).

Defendants here are charged with conspiracy -- i.e., conspiracy to commit offense or defraud the United States by fraudulently obtaining money from the FEGLI program in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. See Indictment ¶¶ 1-27 (Count I -- Conspiracy). This conspiracy charge provides "a common thread that ties all of the defendants and charges together." Edelin, 118 F. Supp. 2d at 39 (citing United States v. Morales, 868 F.2d 1562, 1568-69 (11th Cir. 1989) ("Joinder of multiple defendants is proper whenever there is a 'common thread' between the actions charged against them."); United States v. Simon, 839 F.2d 1461, 1472 (11th Cir. 1988) ("[J]oinder of the defendants for trial is ...


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