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Peckham v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 21, 2016

JOHN W. PECKHAM, JR. Petitioner,



         This matter is before the Court on John Peckham's Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis. (Petition, ECF No. 1.) The Government has filed a Response (ECF No. 12), and the Petition is ready for disposition.


         In February 1994, Peckham was convicted of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to do the same. In August 1996, the Court sentenced Peckham to 37 months in prison and to two years of supervised release. The Eighth Circuit affirmed Peckham's convictions and sentence on appeal. See United States v. Blumeyer, 114 F.3d 758 (8th Cir. 1997). On March 25, 2016, Peckham, proceeding pro se, filed the instant Petition for coram nobis relief pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651.[1] In his Petition, he asserts that his theft of honest services conviction and sentence must be vacated in light of Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010), and Black v. United States, 561 U.S. 465 (2010), [2] and that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted. (ECF Nos. 1, 7.) Peckham also claims that “no reasonable jury would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in light of the now controlling mandates of Santos, Skilling and Black.”[3]


         “A writ of coram nobis is an ‘extraordinary remedy, ' and courts should grant the writ ‘only under circumstances compelling such action to achieve justice' and to correct errors ‘of the most fundamental character.'” United States v. Camacho-Bordes, 94 F.3d 1168, 1173 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502, 511-12 (1954)). “Accordingly, a petitioner must show a compelling basis before coram nobis relief will be granted…and the movant must articulate the fundamental errors and compelling circumstances for relief in the application for coram nobis.” Id. (quotations and citations omitted); see also Morgan, 346 U.S. at 511 (“Continuation of litigation after final judgment and exhaustion or waiver of any statutory right of review should be allowed through this extraordinary remedy only under circumstances compelling such action to achieve justice.”). A petitioner must also provide sound reasons for his failure to seek appropriate earlier relief.[4] See Morgan, 346 U.S. at 512; McFadden v. United States, 439 F.2d 285, 287 (8th Cir. 1971).

         As an initial matter, Peckham was not charged with or convicted of the crime of money laundering. Thus, to the extent he argues that his convictions cannot stand in light of Santos, his claim is unavailing. See United States v. Santos, 553 U.S. 507, 514, 524 (2008) (money-laundering statute's term “proceeds” refers to “profits”). The Court further finds that, to the extent Peckham argues that his conviction for theft of honest services cannot stand in light of Skilling, his claim fails.

         In Skilling, the Supreme Court held that the “honest-services theory of fraud, ” as set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 1346, is limited to schemes involving bribery and kickbacks. See Skilling, 561 U.S. at 400, 408-09. Here, the record demonstrates that Peckham took part in a scheme that involved bribery. In affirming Peckham's convictions and sentence on appeal, the Eighth Circuit found that the record demonstrated the following facts:

In late December 1987, Peckham wrote a memorandum to Blumeyer regarding Dewey Crump, a member of Bel-Aire's board of directors. Crump was at the time a Missouri state representative and chairman of the House Insurance Committee. Peckham's memorandum requested $475 per month to cover Crump's expenses for an apartment, utilities, and furniture rental. Blumeyer's secretary attached a note to the memorandum that read, “John, Art said $400 per month for Dewey…” Crump was also on the payroll of one of Bel-Aire's affiliates at a salary of approximately $55, 000 per year-which he did not report in financial disclosure statements-and had a company credit card, even though he apparently did no work for the company…Blumeyer and Peckham addressed considerable correspondences to Crump regarding insurance bills in the Missouri legislature. In February 1988, the House Appropriations Committee deleted from the MDI's appropriation bill an amount corresponding to the salary of Mark Stalhuth, the attorney responsible for the autumn 1987 audit of Bel-Aire. When the MDI's commissioner investigated, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee suggested that Stalhuth had made some enemies. The commissioner then spoke to Crump, who agreed to restore the funding if the MDI increased the salary of his uncle (an MDI employee) and hired another individual as an examiner. When the MDI complied, the funding for Stalhuth's position was restored.
Crump also sponsored a 1989 legislative amendment that would have made it easier for Bel-Aire to meet the MDI's capital requirements, and he introduced a bill in 1990 that would have altered the requirements of Stalhuth's position so that Stalhuth would not have qualified for the job. In addition, Crump spoke to MDI examiners during a 1989 audit of Bel-Aire, mentioning a recently enacted statute that had raised their salaries and commenting that Blumeyer was a good businessman.

Blumeyer, 114 F.3d at 762-63. The Eighth Circuit rejected Peckham's challenge to the honest services component of the charges, reasoning as follows:

[T]he jury reasonably could have concluded that the defendants schemed to deprive Missourians of [Crump's] honest services by appropriating his discretion for the benefit of Bel-Aire, a company in which…[Crump] concealed his interest…
It is irrelevant that many of Crump's legislative efforts on behalf of Bel-Aire were not enacted into law in the language proffered by him. The defendants cite United States v. Rabbitt, 583, F.2d 1014, 1024-26 (8th Cir. 1978)…in which we reversed several of Rabbitt's convictions because there was no evidence of a tangible or intangible loss to the public. But they ignore another portion of that opinion, in which we affirmed Rabbitt's mail-fraud conviction for accepting a bribe to help insure the passage of a bill, even though the bill was subsequently vetoed by the governor and did not become law. See Id. at 1019-23. The reasoning is simple: the public's right to the honest services of a public officer is violated when the officer uses a public position to pursue dishonest ends, not merely when the officer achieves a dishonest goal.

Id. at 766. Although predated by Skilling, the Eighth Circuit's decision addressed the bribery aspects of Peckham's scheme and rejected a fundamentally similar challenge to Peckham's conviction under section 1346. In addition, in 2014 the Seventh Circuit had occasion to address a claim under Skilling presented by Peckham's co-defendant Blumeyer, which is identical to ...

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