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UNITED STATES v. VIGNOLA

January 8, 1979

UNITED STATES of America
v.
Louis VIGNOLA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD, III

The defendant, Louis Vignola, was appointed President Judge of the Philadelphia Traffic Court in January 1974. On July 21, 1978, the Government filed a five-count indictment *fn1" charging Vignola with racketeering in violation of the "RICO" *fn2" statute, and with attempted tax evasion *fn3" and the filing of false federal income tax returns. *fn4" The defendant moved before trial to dismiss the RICO count (Count I) and to sever that count from the tax counts. After hearing oral argument we denied those motions.

 During the trial a question arose as to the legality of the procedures employed by the prosecution in obtaining disclosure of the defendant's tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. We believed that an evidentiary hearing might well be necessary to resolve this dispute, a hearing we were reluctant to hold in the midst of a trial before a sequestered jury. The defendant then moved for, and we granted, a mistrial and a severance as to the tax counts.

 The jury then convicted the defendant of violating the RICO statute. He has now moved for a judgment of acquittal or for a dismissal of the RICO count, for arrest of judgment, and for a new trial. For the following reasons we will deny these motions.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 The RICO statute, Inter alia, prohibits

 
" . . . any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, (from) conduct(ing) or participating, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity . . . "

 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). The statute defines a "pattern of racketeering activity" as consisting of at least two acts of "racketeering activity", 18 U.S.C. § 1961(5), and sets forth a list of offenses which constitute such activity. Among these offenses is

 
"any act or threat involving . . . bribery, . . . which is chargeable under State law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year . . . "

 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1).

 The indictment in this case alleged that the defendant, as President Judge of the Traffic Court, had the power to appoint and remove writ-servers to execute arrest warrants issued by the Court. *fn5" As compensation, the writ-servers received a statutorily-prescribed flat fee for each warrant they served; *fn6" the more warrants they executed the more money they earned.

 The original indictment set forth over sixty-six instances *fn7" in which the defendant had allegedly "solicited, accepted, and agreed to accept a pecuniary benefit" from certain named writ-servers, "as consideration for the defendant's decision, recommendation and other exercise of discretion as a public servant, and as consideration for a violation of a known legal duty as a public servant," in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 4701, the Pennsylvania bribery statute. The indictment charged that these acts of bribery constituted a pattern of racketeering activity, that the defendant was employed by or associated with an enterprise (the Traffic Court) engaged in, or the activities of which affected, interstate commerce, and that he conducted the affairs of this enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, thus violating RICO.

 At trial, former writ-server Edwin Lynch, the Government's main witness, testified that he had had a deal with the defendant to make certain monthly and weekly payments to the defendant in order to keep his job, to have warrants channeled to him, and to "fix" traffic tickets. *fn8" Lynch explained that he would write checks to "cash" in order to generate funds with which to pay the defendant, and that he or members of his family and staff would deliver this cash in envelopes to the defendant's home or office. Lynch identified numerous checks as being the ones he had written in order to generate cash for the pay-offs. He was able to make these identifications on the basis of such annotations as "Judge" or "J. Personal" on the check stubs or scraps of paper he kept with his checks. Lynch's testimony was corroborated by those members of his family and staff who had made deliveries of the monies, and who, on occasion, had endorsed the checks to generate cash.

 Writ-server Charles Vare testified for the Government that he and the defendant had had a deal pursuant to which Vare would pay the defendant $ 1 for each warrant he was given to serve. Vare said that he had made approximately five payments to the defendant of $ 125 to $ 250 in cash.

 We believe that there was ample evidence for the jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had solicited and accepted bribes. The defendant does not seriously challenge the sufficiency of the evidence as to the bribery; rather, he has challenged his conviction as encompassing racketeering activity not falling within the ambit of RICO.

 II. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL; MOTION TO DISMISS COUNT I; MOTION FOR ARREST OF JUDGMENT

 The defendant's initial claim is that the Philadelphia Traffic Court is not an "enterprise" within the meaning of the RICO statute. We reject this contention as contrary to the plain language of RICO, which defines an enterprise as including

 
"Any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or Other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity",

 18 U.S.C. § 1961(4) (emphasis added). As a creature of statute, 17 P.S. § 712.1 Et seq., the Philadelphia Traffic Court is a "legal entity" and is therefore an "enterprise" for the purposes of RICO.

 The defendant argues, however, that Congress did not intend RICO to apply to the judiciary, and, in enacting RICO, was not concerned with corruption of that branch of government. We disagree. RICO was enacted as Title IX of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970; the over-all purpose of that Act is to combat so-called "organized crime", which Congress viewed as a spreading cancer in American society. *fn9" The major thrust of the 1970 Act is to rid the American economy and the channels of interstate commerce from the influences of "organized crime". Congress has chosen to accomplish this objective not by proscribing the elusive status of "organized crime", but by prohibiting certain behavior, such as syndicated gambling and racketeering, which it has concluded is commonly engaged in by members of "organized crime". *fn10" This does not mean, however, that Congress intended the 1970 Act to apply Exclusively to members of "organized crime", and, of course, the Government need not prove that a RICO defendant is a member of "organized crime". See United States v. Mandel, 415 F. Supp. 997, 1018-19 (D.Md.1976).

 RICO, or Title IX of the 1970 Act, is aimed at removing racketeering influences from enterprises engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate commerce. Through RICO, Congress hoped to reduce the burden placed upon interstate commerce by racketeers, and, to that end, Congress has given "enterprise" the broad definition previously quoted. This definition makes no exception for public entities such as the judiciary, nor do we find any basis in the legislative history for implying one. *fn11" Indeed, in adopting the 1970 Act, Congress expressed a particular concern for the subversion and corruption of "our democratic processes" and the undermining of the "general welfare of the ...


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