FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS HON. TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Kretzer for appellant.
T. Quinlivan, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom
Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney, was on brief, for
Lynch, Selya, and Lipez, Circuit Judges.
convicted Richard Valentini on December 18, 2017, of one
count of conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act extortion and one
count of aiding and abetting the same. 18 U.S.C. §§
2, 1951. The defendant and his cohorts, ostensibly members of
an organized crime organization in the Springfield,
Massachusetts area, tried to extort money from Craig Morel,
the owner of an interstate towing company, through means such
as threatening Morel with death, striking Morel in the face,
and telling Morel his access to towing contracts for his
business with state and municipal governments depended on his
making the extortion payments.
defendant primarily challenges the sufficiency of the
evidence. The evidence was more than sufficient to support
the verdict on both crimes. We also reject two legal
arguments he makes, which misinterpret the Hobbs Act. We
stress again that the "obtaining of property"
element of the Act does not require the government to prove
that the defendant personally benefitted or took possession
of the property. We affirm.
recite the evidence in the light most favorable to the
verdict. See United States v.
Pena, 910 F.3d 591, 597 (1st Cir. 2018).
The Extortion Scheme
owns and operates CJ's Towing, a vehicle towing and
storage company in Springfield, Massachusetts. CJ's
Towing has had state and municipal contracts (for example,
for the Massachusetts Turnpike and Massachusetts State Police
("MSP")) and contracts with private automobile
clubs, such as Allstate Roadside. CJ's Towing also tows
and services vehicles out of state and transports individuals
whose vehicles have broken down around Springfield across
state lines to Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, and
September 2000, CJ's Towing purchased another towing
company and assumed its contracts with the MSP and
Springfield police. After that purchase, a local organized
crime figure, Frank Depergola, told Morel he would have to
pay the mob to provide kickbacks to city officials to ensure
that Morel and his company retained these contracts. Morel
complied and paid. Nearly a year later, Morel learned the
kickbacks he paid went to Al Bruno, the leader of the New
York-based Genovese crime family's "crew" in
Springfield. Fearing reprisal if he stopped, Morel continued
paying the kickbacks. In October 2003, Morel stopped making
those payments after CJ's Towing lost its City of
Springfield towing contract, as it was apparent that
Depergola and Bruno could not deliver on their promises to
see the contracts continued. Attempts to collect the unpaid
kickbacks from Morel ceased when Bruno was murdered a month
later and law enforcement arrested Anthony Arillotta, one of
a decade later, in August or September of 2013, Morel was
told that a new crew, headed by Ralph Santaniello and
comprised of at least Albert Calvanese, Valentini, and John
Basile, would soon begin demanding extortion payments from
him. On September 30, 2013, Santaniello and Giovanni
"John" Calabrese approached Morel at Morel's
secluded Hampden, Massachusetts home and demanded both back
payments they claimed Morel owed to Bruno and money for
future protection. They also threatened Morel's life if
he failed to cooperate or if he contacted law enforcement,
and Santaniello struck Morel in the face. Santaniello
initially demanded $50, 000 in arrears and $4, 000 per month
in ongoing payments but, after some resistance by Morel,
reduced his demand to $20, 000 in arrears and $2, 000 per
then sought help from his best friend, an MSP trooper, who
referred him to another MSP officer. On October 4, 2013, the
MSP fitted Morel with a hidden recording device and gave
Morel $5, 000 to give as an extortion payment to the new crew
and to see how they would react to an insufficient payment.
Later that day, Calabrese brought Valentini with him to
collect the money from Morel at Morel's house. Valentini
is a big, strong man, bigger than Morel, and, after Morel
expressed concern about being extorted, Valentini told him to
"relax." Valentini then guaranteed that, in return
for continued payments, Morel would be "all set"
with a City of Springfield contract and would win a
Massachusetts Turnpike contract. When Morel stated he would
pay, Valentini stated that Morel was "going to get
treated just as good as Al [Bruno] . . . treated [him]."
Valentini then stated that Morel was "never going to
have a problem with anybody." Calabrese asked Morel to
tell them if he had any issues with anyone, and Valentini
said: "[I]t's going to end. I guarantee you it will
end." Valentini and Calabrese told Morel they would help
him in "certain areas," e.g., help Morel obtain
towing contracts in exchange for continued payments.
Specifically, Valentini stated: "If you need help in
certain areas, we can help you out." Later, Valentini
stated: "And the only time you gotta see us is when you
have a problem. . . . [Y]ou don't want to hang around
with us like every day." At Calabrese's demand,
Morel then gave him $5, 000. Morel stated he could only pay
the rest "piecemeal" over the next few weeks.
Calabrese responded that paying over the next week or few
weeks was acceptable, but the first payments would need to
total $20, 000 and then Morel would need to pay $2, 000 every
month going forward. During this exchange about the payments,
Valentini was "nodding and kind of participating in the
complained about how "steep" the payments were and
said he needed more time to pay the entire arrears sum.
Valentini said this was acceptable, so long as Morel did not
take too long, stating: "Yea. I mean, you know, not a
marathon but you know you can . . . you can do, you
know." (Ellipsis in original.) Calabrese told Morel that
either Calabrese or Valentini would return to Morel's
home the following Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. for the next
payment. Valentini was part of this discussion about the next
meeting. The October 4 meeting was the only meeting with
Morel in which Valentini participated.
were multiple additional meetings in October and November
2013 during which the crew demanded that Morel pay the
remaining $15, 000 of the agreed-upon arrears amount. At an
October 9 meeting, at the request of the MSP, Morel gave
Calabrese only $500 instead of the $5, 000 he had promised.
Later that day, Calabrese and Santaniello visited Morel and
angrily threatened him with implied death and other violence.
Santaniello then aggressively opened Morel's shirt
(looking for, and failing to find, recording devices). Both
Calabrese and Santaniello threatened to "get rid
of" Morel's towing contracts if Morel did not pay
the remaining portion of the $15, 000 by the next Friday. ...