Thursday, May 01, 2014

Victims of Hobbs Act Conspiracy Can Also Be Part of It

US v. Ocasio: Ocasio was a Baltimore police officer who was part of a scheme to direct business to a local car repair shop, in return for kickbacks.  He was originally charged, along with several other officers and the owner/operators of the shop, with conspiracy to violate the Hobbs Act.  Each of the other defendants pleaded guilty, while a superseding indictment charged Ocasio and a different officer with the same conspiracy, along with substantive Hobbs Act extortion violations.  Ocasio was convicted at trial on all counts (his codefendant pleaded guilty after the Government rested its case).  He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $1500 to the police department and $1870 to Geico, based on a fraudulent insurance claim made regarding Ocasio's wife's car at the repair shop.

On appeal, Ocasio challenged both his convictions and his restitution order.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed the conviction, rejecting Ocasio's argument that the conspiracy conviction was "fatally flawed."  He argued that one cannot be convicted (under federal law) of conspiring with the victims of the scheme (in this case, the shop and its owner/operators).  Relying on prior circuit precedent, the court distinguished between a conspirator/victim whose conduct consisted of "mere acquiescence" to the scheme and one who was an active participant.  In other words, an active participant can be both a conspirator and a victim of the scheme.  As a result, it affirmed the conspiracy conviction based on the active roles of the victims.  The court rejected a competing Seventh Circuit reading of the statute favorable to Ocasio, holding it was precluded by circuit precedent.  As to restitution, the court concluded that Geico was not a victim of Ocasio's offenses of conviction and, therefore, vacated the restitution order.

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