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United States v. Taylor

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 7, 2017



          BERYL A. HOWELL Chief Judge.

         The defendant, Garfield Taylor, was sentenced to 156 months' incarceration on his guilty plea, pursuant to a plea agreement, to one count of securities fraud stemming from his operation of a Ponzi scheme that defrauded over 150 victims of over $25 million. See Judgment in a Criminal Case, ECF No. 72.[1] Almost one year after his sentencing, the defendant filed pro se motions seeking to obtain discovery, Def.'s Expedited Mot. for Leave to Modify Protective Order Governing Disc. (“Def.'s Disc. Mot.”), ECF No. 76, and to vacate his guilty plea and sentence, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in multiple respects, Def.'s Mot. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody and to Permit Discovery (“Def.'s 2255 Mot.”), ECF No. 79.[2] For the reasons below, the defendant's motions are denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Set out below are the facts underlying the defendant's conviction, as summarized in the Statement of Offense accompanying the Plea Agreement, which facts were admitted by the defendant at the time of his guilty plea, see Stmt. of Offense, ECF No. 27; Plea Agreement, ECF No. 28; Plea Hr'g Tr. dated March 6, 2014 (“Plea Hr'g Tr.”) at 21-25, ECF No. 85, followed by a summary of the hearings held regarding the defendant's guilty plea, sentencing and post-sentencing confirmation of his intention to maintain his guilty plea.


         From roughly 2006 to 2010, the defendant ran a Ponzi scheme through which he defrauded over 150 people of millions of dollars. Stmt. of Offense ¶¶ 1, 4, 46. While promising that his investment strategy was a “safe and lucrative” way to “provide his customers above-market returns through a covered-call trading strategy, ” the defendant knowingly failed to disclose that he was “engaging in trading strategies that involved a high degree of risk” and “using other investors' principal-not trading profits-to pay for the large returns he had promised to earlier investors.” Id. ¶¶ 4, 5. The defendant's “highly risky trading strategies” resulted in “overwhelming losses, ” yet he knowingly continued to pursue victims through his misrepresentations. Id. ¶ 7. The defendant used two companies to facilitate this criminal activity, Garfield Taylor Incorporated (“GTI”) and Gibraltar Asset Management Group, LLC (“GAM”). Id. ¶¶ 2-3. GTI was “the original entity that defendant used to lure investors, ” id. ¶ 8, and through GTI, the defendant lost approximately $16, 450, 415 of principal invested through a series of high risk trades, id. ¶12. GAM, which was founded in late 2007 or early 2008, likewise was used by the defendant to make risky trades with investor capital and lost approximately $8, 683, 577 of principal invested, including a single investment of six million dollars from a children's charity. Id. ¶¶ 14, 21, 25. Despite incurring massive losses to his investors, the defendant withdrew at least $2, 500, 000 over the course of his criminal activity for his own personal use. Id. at ¶ 45.


         The defendant was represented by court-appointed counsel from the time of his arraignment through his plea of guilty. See Minute Entry, dated Feb. 28, 2013. During this period, the parties entered into a protective order providing that documents created by the United States “in preparation for, or in connection with” the defendant's case would be disclosed to the defense, but required that any “sensitive materials” containing identifying personal and financial information of his victims must “be maintained in the custody and control of defense counsel, ” who could show the materials to the defendant “as necessary to assist in preparation of the defense” without “provid[ing] a copy” to the defendant or permitting the defendant to “write down any personal identity information” in the documents. Consent Order Governing Disc. ¶¶ 1, 7, 9, ECF No. 8.

         Almost one year after the defendant's arraignment, the defendant entered a guilty plea to one count of securities fraud, in violation of 15 U.S.C. §§ 78j, 78ff, pursuant to an agreement reached with the government. Plea Agreement at 1; see also Minute Entry, dated March 6, 2014. At the plea hearing, the Court carefully reviewed the consequences of entering a guilty plea and the constitutional rights that the defendant waived by pleading guilty, as also set forth in the plea agreement. Plea Hr'g Tr. at 23-31. Of particular relevance to the defendant's claims, the Court informed the defendant at the hearing that he was not waiving his right to claim ineffective assistance of counsel on collateral review. Id. at 38. During the hearing, the defendant discussed privately with his attorney various matters related to his plea. Id. at 26.

         When questioned directly by the Court, the defendant affirmed that the facts laid out in the Statement of Offense were “correct, ” id. at 22-23, that he had not been coerced to enter the plea, id. at 39, 41, that he was “satisfied with the services of [his] lawyer in th[e] case, ” id. at 5- 6, and that he had sufficient time to talk with his attorney about the case, the plea offer, and “whether [he] should accept it, ” id. at 6, 33-35. Indeed, the defendant himself stated that “there [was]n't anything that [he] d[id]n't understand” about the plea agreement. Id. at 40. The Court accepted the defendant's guilty plea and the plea agreement, id. at 41, being satisfied that the defendant had voluntarily signed the plea agreement, and that he had “carefully read it” and “underst[oo]d its terms, ” id. at 29-31.

         Two months after the plea hearing, the defendant's first attorney moved to withdraw as counsel, citing an unspecified conflict of interest brought to his attention by the defendant. Def.'s Att'y's Mot. Withdraw Counsel at 1, ECF No. 33. The motion was granted, and a second attorney was appointed as counsel. Notice of Appearance, ECF No. 37. The parties then informed the Court that the defendant was considering seeking withdrawal of his guilty plea. J. Status. Rep., dated June 18, 2014, ECF No. 39. The Court entered a scheduling order requiring the defendant to file any motion to withdraw the plea by August 18, 2014, see Minute Order, dated June 30, 2014, which filing deadline passed without the defendant submitting any motion. After several postponements of the scheduled sentencing date, the sentencing hearing was set for May 12, 2015. See Minute Order, dated May 1, 2015.

         The day before the sentencing hearing, the defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea. Def.'s Mot. Withdraw Guilty Plea (“Def.'s Mot. Withdraw Plea”), ECF No. 66. Due to the untimely filing of the motion, the sentencing proceeded as scheduled, but the defendant was advised by the Court that he would be permitted to pursue his motion after his sentencing. Sentencing Hr'g Tr., dated May 12, 2015 (“Sentencing Tr.”) at 3-4, 116, ECF No. 75.

         At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel raised a number of objections to the PSR, including in relevant part, objecting to “the calculation of the loss amount” for which the defendant would be held responsible. Id. at 4-44. The Court rejected the defense objections. Id. at 44-48. After seven of the defendant's many victims testified as to the hardships they suffered due to the defendant's criminal activity, id. at 60-84; 110-11, [3] the defendant addressed the Court directly. He stated, in relevant part, that he initially “didn't want to sign” the plea agreement, and that this was “why [he] switched lawyers.” Id. at 106. He denied an intent to hurt his clients, id. at 101-04, but admitted that his plan to mislead his victims in order to procure investments was “not a good plan, looking back, ” and that though he “really thought” that his actions would produce returns for his victims, he will “never be able to pay [them] back” and that “[he] can't blame anybody” but himself for his actions, id. at 105-07. The defendant was then sentenced to 156 months' imprisonment and an obligation to pay restitution totaling $28, 609, 438. Id. at 108-13. In explaining the reasons for the sentence, the Court noted that the defendant's “lying and thievery was ongoing” and that it was “shocking . . . how many elderly victims [the defendant] targeted and lied to.” Id.


         Six days after his sentencing, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his motion to withdraw his plea in order to maintain his guilty plea. Def.'s Mot. Withdraw Mot. Withdraw Plea, ECF No. 69. The Court held a hearing on both of the defendant's pending motions to withdraw his plea and to withdraw that motion, in order to “make sure” that the defendant in fact wanted to maintain his guilty plea. Mot. Withdraw Guilty Plea Hr'g Tr., dated June 12, 2015 (“Mot. Withdraw Hr'g Tr.”) at 2, ECF No. 86. At the hearing, the defendant stated, under oath, that he had discussed with his second counsel “what [he] really wanted to do, ” and that nobody, specifically including both of his court-appointed counsel, had “force[d] [him] or coerce[d] [him]

         into” entering or maintaining his guilty plea. Id. at 4, 7. The defendant confirmed that he had “fully discussed with [counsel] how withdrawing [his] motion” was “likely to make [his] conviction and [his] sentence final, ” and acknowledged that by withdrawing his motion and admitting under oath that he had not been coerced to do so, he was “giving up an ability or right to argue that [he was] coerced by [his counsel] into pleading guilty.” Id. at 8-10. In his own words, the defendant stated that he had “accepted the sentence” imposed, that he “didn't want to put anybody through any more troubles, the victims or [his] family, ” and that he was “very satisfied” with the services of his second attorney. Id. Based on the defendant's representations at the hearing, the Court granted the defendant's motion to withdraw the ...

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