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United States v. Cadden

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 21, 2016




         Before the court is a Rule 12(b)(3) attack by defendants on Count III of the indictment, which charges a conspiracy to defraud the United States, or more precisely, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 371.[1] Defendants variously assert that Count III is deficient because it fails to successfully plead a violation of § 371, fails to give adequate notice of the offense, and, as applied, is void for vagueness. Defendant Robert Ronzio also contends that Count III as framed violates his right to protected speech under the First Amendment.[2]

         In its operative paragraph, the Indictment charges that:

From in or around 1998, the exact date being unknown to the Grand Jury, through in or around October 2012, within the District of Massachusetts and elsewhere, defendants (1) CADDEN, (7) CARTER, (8) STEPANETS, (9) GREG CONIGLIARO, and (10) RONZIO, knowingly and willfully conspired and agreed together and with each other, and with other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to defraud the United States of and concerning its governmental functions and rights, hereinafter described, that is, of and concerning its right to have its business and affairs, and particularly the transaction of the official business of the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), conducted honestly and impartially, free from corruption, fraud, improper and undue influence, dishonesty, unlawful impairment, and obstruction.

Ind. ¶ 77 (emphasis omitted).

         In addressing a challenge to the legal (as opposed to factual) sufficiency of an indictment, a court must determine whether the indictment “contains the elements of the offense charged and fairly informs a defendant of the charge against which he must defend, and . . . enables him to plead an acquittal or conviction in bar of future prosecutions for the same offense.” Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117 (1974); see also United States v. Stewart, 744 F.3d 17, 21 (1st Cir. 2014) (a challenge to the sufficiency of an indictment is not an opportunity to determine the sufficiency of the evidence, but rather the court will assume the truth of the indictment's factual allegations); United States v. Guerrier, 669 F.3d 1, 3-4 (1st Cir. 2011) (same). Typically, an indictment need only set out the charge in the words of the statute itself, so long as it does so unambiguously and provides facts “specific enough to apprise the defendant of the nature of the accusation against him and to inform the court of the facts alleged.” United States v. Serino, 835 F.2d 924, 929 (1st Cir. 1987).

         Section 371 criminalizes conspiracies “to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.” The “defraud clause, ” which is at issue here, encompasses both schemes “aiming to deprive the government of money or property, ” and schemes seeking “to interfere with government functions.” United States v. Goldberg, 105 F.3d 770, 773 (1st Cir. 1997). Count III relies on the functional interference aspect of the defraud clause.

         There are three elements of a § 371 conspiracy under the defraud clause: “‘an agreement, the unlawful objective of the agreement, and an overt act in furtherance of the agreement.' The objective of the agreement is unlawful if it is ‘for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful function of any department of Government.'” United States v. Barker Steel Co., 985 F.2d 1123, 1128 (1st Cir. 1993) (internal citation omitted) (quoting United States v. Hurley, 957 F.2d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 1992), and Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855, 861 (1966)).

         Count III of the indictment clearly satisfies the pleading requirements of Barker Steel, alleging as it does the required elements of a conspiracy to defraud, as well as the requisite overt act(s). See Ind. ¶¶ 89-108 (misrepresentations to the FDA, ¶¶ 89-91; fabrication of patient names, ¶¶ 92-101; orders shipped to patients under false names, ¶ 102; and efforts to obstruct a state investigation by fabricating prescriptions, ¶¶ 103-108). The remaining issue is whether indictment articulates the unlawful objective of the agreement with sufficient clarity to place a reasonable defendant on notice of the accusation he or she faces.[3]

         Here the grand jury has more than adequately defined the purpose of the conspiracy: To induce regulatory authorities, including the FDA, into believing that NECC was doing business as a compounding pharmacy when in fact it was in the business of manufacturing drugs. See Ind. ¶ 78. By erecting and maintaining such a façade, it is alleged that NECC avoided the higher level of regulatory oversight that state and federal agencies, including the FDA, would have brought to bear. Id. ¶ 79. The issue is not whether the theory is right or wrong - that is a matter for the jury - but whether it is stated with sufficient specificity to enable a defense. It is.[4]

         Defendants' remaining arguments have even less heft. The claim that a § 371 indictment may not permissibly allege non-criminal acts in furtherance of a conspiracy, see Dkt #395 at 18, is foreclosed by First Circuit precedent. See United States v. Tarvers, 833 F.2d 1068, 1075 (1st Cir. 1987) (“The statute does not require that the means used to achieve the unlawful goal of the conspiracy be unlawful.”). Equally meritless is the claim made by four defendants asserting that a § 371 conspiracy based on the defraud clause must allege a monetary loss to the United States (and not merely interference with a governmental function). See Barker Steel, 985 F.2d at 1128 (the “broad” language of § 371 is “not limited to conspiracies which defraud the government of money or property”).

         Some additional arguments are directed more at issues of factual rather than legal sufficiency, but to the extent they implicate matters of law I will comment briefly. First, defendants argue that the indictment fails to establish “that all five alleged conspirators formed an agreement to do a particular thing, or to pursue a particular course of conduct, ” Dkt #395 at 15, particularly given the fact that the conspiracy is alleged to have had its inception prior to several of them becoming employed at NECC. Defendants also claim that the indictment fails to indicate the “specific way” in which the conspiratorial agreement was formed. Id. In the first instance, there is no requirement in the law of conspiracy that a defendant be shown to have been present at the conspiracy's creation, or to have been privy to every one of its details, or even to have been aware of the identity of all of the participants. See United States v. Monserrate-Valentín, 729 F.3d 31, 49 (1st Cir. 2013); United States v. Soto-Beníquez, 356 F.3d 1, 19 (1st Cir. 2003). Nor is the government required to show that the conspiratorial agreement was formalized in express words or writings. United States v. Patrick, 248 F.3d 11, 20 (1st Cir. 2001) (the law of conspiracy encompasses not only express compacts, also “tacit agreement[s] shown from an implicit working relationship”); see also United States v. Boylan, 898 F.2d 230, 241-242 (1st Cir. 1990) (“[C]onspiratorial agreement . . . can plausibly be inferred from the defendants' words and actions and the interdependence of activities and persons involved.”).

         Along the same lines, defendants assert that Count III is deficient because it is “completely devoid of any allegation as to motive.” Dkt #395 at 16. While purpose (object) is an element of the crime of conspiracy, motive (while often relevant) is not. See United States v. Gleason, 616 F.2d 2, 16 (2d Cir. 1979). Of similar ilk is the argument that the indictment fails to allege any specific way in which an FDA function was “actually interfered with” by the conspiracy. Id. at 17-18. This argument ignores a fundamental principle: That the conspiratorial “agreement is ‘a distinct evil, ' which ‘may exist and be punished whether or not the substantive crime ensues.'” United States v. Jimenez Recio, 537 U.S. 270, 274 (2003) (quoting Salinas v. United States, 522 U.S. 52, 65 (1997)).

         Finally, defendants object to the fact that Count III lists among the conspirators' overt acts misrepresentations made to a state agency, the Massachusetts Board of Registry in Pharmacy, during the course of its investigation of NECC. Dkt #395 at 18-19. It is true that a § 371 conspiracy to defraud requires proof that a goal of the conspiracy is to impede a function of the federal government, and that protecting the integrity of the functions of state or private entities is not a matter with which § 371 is concerned. See Tanner, 483 U.S. at 130 (section 371 defines its crimes “not only by the nature of the injury intended by the conspiracy, and the method used to effectuate the conspiracy, but also - and most importantly - the target of the conspiracy”). However, the assertion that the defendants made similar efforts to deceive the state Board of Registry does not subvert the allegation that the FDA was the ultimate target of the conspiracy. Efforts to conceal the existence of a conspiracy may be alleged as acts in its furtherance where they contribute to the accomplishment of the overall objectives of the conspirators. United States v. Upton, 559 F.3d 3, ...

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