Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Government Victory in Mann Act Appeals

US v. Singh: Singh and co-defendant Patel were managers of motels in Martinsburg, West Virginia. They became involved in a prostitution ring run by Susan Powell in which prostitutes recruited from West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland would use rooms in Singh and Patel's motels to conduct their business. Powell would communicate with the prostitutes using the motel switchboards and had an arrangement with Singh and Patel wherein they would be paid for use of the rooms, but the rooms would be empty early enough in the afternoon to allow them to be rented to "regular" customers. Singh, Patel, and the company that owned Patel's motel were charged and convicted of conspiracy to violate the Mann Act, substantive violations of the Mann Act, conspiracy to launder money, and substantive money laundering counts. An order of forfeiture seizing more than $670,000, in addition to the two motels. Following post-trial motions, the district court vacated all the convictions against the company (and accompanying forfeitures) and the money laundering convictions against Singh and Patel. They were sentenced to 15 months in prison.

The Government appealed the district court's post-trial rulings and the Fourth Circuit reversed. As to the money laundering charges, the court rejected the district court's reasoning that the money Powell's prostitutes paid to Singh and Patel for the use of the motel rooms were separate from the underlying Mann Act offense. The court concluded that the Mann Act violation was complete once money was paid for sex and the later passage of some of those funds to the motel managers promoted that unlawful activity. The court also reversed the district court's conclusion regarding the company, holding that Patel's actions at his motel were undertaken within the scope of his employment.

Singh and Patel also appealed. First, the challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the Mann Act convictions. They argued that they neither induced the prostitutes' interstate travel nor knew of Powell's inducements. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument, noting that the Singh and Patel required the prostitutes to fill out registration forms on which they listed their out of state addresses. The court also noted that given Martinsburg's proximity to Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, it was reasonable that Singh and Patel knew that Powell would recruit from those areas. Second, the court rejected the argument that the district court erred by preventing Singh and Patel from offering evidence that Powell's daughters were involved in the prostitution ring and Powell made a deal with the Government party to shield them from prosecution. Third, the court rejected Singh and Patel's Batson argument regarding the only minority juror struck by the Government. Finally, the court held that Singh and Patel were properly tried together.

As a result, the entire case was remanded to the district court for resentencing in light of the original verdict being reinstated.

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