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United States v. Szczerba

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

May 17, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
THOMAS THADDEUS SZCZERBA, a/k/a “Enzo”, Defendant.

          OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HENRY EDWARD AUTREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal or, in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial, [Doc. # 222]. The Government opposes the Motion and has filed a response thereto. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.

         Facts and Background

         Thomas Szczerba (“Szczerba”) and Keisha Edwards (“Edwards”) were charged in a second superseding indictment with: Count One: Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 371; Count Two: Conspiracy to Engage in Sex Trafficking in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1), (a)(2) and (b)(1) and 1594(c); Count Three: Interstate Transportation of an Individual to Engage in Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421 and 2; Count Four: Use of Facilities of Interstate Commerce with Intent to Aid an Enterprise Involving Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 1952(a)(3) and 2; Count Five: Enticement to Travel in Interstate Commerce to Engage in Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421 and 2; Count Six: Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud or Coercion in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a), (b)(1) and 2, and Count Seven: Use of Facilities in Interstate Commerce with Intent to Distribute Proceeds from an Enterprise Involving Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 1952(a)(1) and 2.

         On February 8, 2017 both defendants proceeded to trial on the second superseding indictment. Prior to opening statements in the case co-defendant Keisha Edwards entered a guilty plea to aiding and abetting defendant Szczerba in the commission of Count Four: Use of Facilities of Interstate Commerce with Intent to Aid an Enterprise Involving Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a)(3), and Count Seven: Use of Facilities in Interstate Commerce with Intent to Distribute Proceeds from an Enterprise Involving Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a)(1).

         The trial of co-defendant Szczerba proceeded and the United States presented evidence in its case-in-chief. That evidence included testimonial evidence from seven witnesses, documentary evidence in the nature of bank, email, credit card and financial records, a 911 dispatch call and transcript of same, as well as website information which demonstrated defendant Szczerba's participation in the charged offenses.

         After considerable deliberation the jury returned verdicts finding Defendant guilty of Count One: Conspiracy to Commit an Offense Against the United States in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. § 371. He was specifically found guilty of: (1) knowingly transporting the victim in interstate commerce with the intent that she engage in prostitution and (2) knowingly traveling in interstate commerce or using any facility in interstate commerce with the intent to carry on an unlawful activity to wit: prostitution, as well as aiding and abetting another in the commission of three crimes to include, Count Three: Interstate Transportation of an Individual to Engage in Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421, Count Four: Use of Facilities of Interstate Commerce with Intent to Aid an Enterprise Involving Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§1952(a)(3) and Count Seven: Use of Facilities in Interstate Commerce with Intent to Distribute Proceeds from an Enterprise Involving Prostitution in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 1952(a)(1) and 2.

         Discussion

         Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

         Defendant initially argues that the Government failed to make a submissible case on each count under Rule 29 (c). The Rule provides a mechanism by which acquittal must be entered if there is insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction. “The standard for determining whether evidence is insufficient is very strict, requiring acquittal only where there is ‘no interpretation of the evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.'” United States v. Munoz, No. 11B167, 2012 WL 3031143 (D.Minn. July 25, 2012), citing United States v. Gomez, 165 F.3d 650, 654 (8th Cir.1999). “When a district court considers a motion for acquittal, it does so with ‘very limited latitude.' The court should not assess the credibility of the witnesses or weigh the evidence.” United States v. Thompson, 285 F.3d 731, 733 (8th Cir.2002). It is the duty of the Court to view the “evidence in the light most favorable to the government, resolving conflicts in the government's favor, and accepting all reasonable inferences that support the verdict.” United States v. Garcia, 646 F.3d 1061, 1066 (8th Cir. 2011) (citation and internal quotations omitted); See also, United States v. Vore, 743 F.3d 1175, 1180 (8th Cir. 2014). “This standard is quite strict' and the court will not disturb the conviction unless ‘no reasonable jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.'” Id. (quoting United States v. Wright, 739 F.3d 1160, 1167 (8th Cir. 2014)).

         Based on all of the evidence presented at trial, the Court concluded that the Government indeed proved all the required elements beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence was more than sufficient to establish an evidential and legal basis for each count. The record of the trial fully supports this conclusion without reservation or qualification. There was considerable testimony by the victim relating to the conduct of the Defendant and his co-conspirator. A victim's testimony alone can be sufficient to prove the sex crimes in question. United States v. Bell, 761 F.3d 900, 907 (8th Cir. 2014). Here, there was much evidence, including documentary evidence, banking records evidence, World Wide Web evidence, and 911 call evidence, supporting the position of the United States. Credibility is not an issue for the Court in these proceedings. Credibility determinations are uniquely within the province of the trier of fact, so the jury was entitled to afford more weight to the evidence presented by the prosecution. See, United States v. Geddes, 844 F.3d 983, 992 (8th Cir. 2017). The facts presented and the applicable law are not servants of the Defendant in this instance. The Rule 29 (c) motion necessarily must fail.

         Motion for New Trial

         Defendant argues there are Brady and Giglio violations perpetrated by the United States in the prosecution of the charges which entitle him to relief. Defendant asserts these violations resonate from the failure of the United States to provide an FBI report relating to the interview of an individual named Michael Ritti. Mr. Ritti was referred to several times during the trial. Defendant asserts that Ritti likely had exculpatory evidence by way of testimony. Under Giglio “impeachment evidence falls under Brady when the reliability of a given witness may be determinative of a defendant's guilt or innocence.” United States v. Marshall, No.08-50079-02, 2010 WL 428967, *1 (D.SD. Feb.3, 2010); See also, Giglio 405 U.S. at 154.

         Under Brady the United States must disclose all exculpatory evidence to the defense for use at the trial. In order to succeed on a Brady claim, “[a defendant] must establish (1) ‘the prosecution suppressed evidence, ' (2) ‘the evidence was favorable to him, ' and (3) ‘the evidence was material to either his guilt or his punishment.'” Mandacina v. United States,328 F.3d 995, 1001 (8th Cir.2003) (quoting United ...


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