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U.S. v. Oliva

filed: January 31, 1995.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
J. MICHAEL OLIVA, APPELLANT



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY. (D.C. Criminal No. 92-00067-01).

Before: Hutchinson and Nygaard, Circuit Judges, and Ludwig, District Judge*fn*

Author: Nygaard

Opinion OF THE COURT

NYGAARD, Circuit Judge.

Oliva was convicted of embezzling union funds in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 501(c). His appeal presents us with four issues: (1) whether the evidence was sufficient to convict him; (2) whether reimbursement is a defense to embezzlement; (3) whether the statute of limitation bars his indictment and conviction; and (4) whether the district court committed reversible error in its instructions to the jury on the "intent" element of the offense. We will affirm. The first two issues are wholly without merit and require no explanation. The latter two, however, we explain as follows.

I.

Oliva was the manager of the South Jersey Joint Board of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers' Union, having "inherited" the position from his father. The Joint Board was composed of six members, including Oliva, a business agent, and two clerical employees. While he was Joint Board manager, Oliva regularly submitted substantial travel expenses that he claimed were incurred on behalf of the union. Among these expenses were three airline tickets, issued in the names of his wife and two children, for round-trip travel between Philadelphia and Miami. The tickets were purchased with the Joint Board's American Express card, which had been given to Oliva for union-related expenses. The tickets were paid for on February 1, 1987, when the union's office secretary prepared a Joint Board check as payment for its January 1987 American Express bill, obtained Oliva's signature on the check, and mailed the check to American Express. The check cleared on February 5, 1987.

The facts were largely undisputed and the primary issue for the jury was whether these tickets were obtained with fraudulent intent, as the Government contended, or whether Oliva's wife's ticket had been authorized by the Joint Board and the children's tickets had been paid for with Joint Board funds in error, as Oliva claimed.

Oliva introduced Joint Board minutes purportedly authorizing his wife to accompany him on union-related trips. He also introduced the testimony of a retired Joint Board officer to support his claim. He acknowledged that the children's tickets were not authorized, but argued that they were purchased with the union credit card solely to get a better rate. He claimed that there was no difference between reimbursing the union for these tickets after the trip rather than before. Defense counsel acknowledged in his opening and closing statements, that while Oliva may have spent union money "imprudently," he had always done so with the good faith belief that he was helping the Joint Board's constituents by trying to get work for them from textile manufacturers.

Other Joint Board members testified that the Board had not authorized payment for Oliva's wife to travel with him and that all Board members were required to pay travel expenses for their spouses. These Board members also testified that a number of sets of Joint Board minutes, including those concerning authorization for Oliva's salary, Christmas bonus, and travel for Oliva and his wife, contained "downright lies" and did not accurately reflect what happened at Joint Board meetings. The Board members and the office secretary who typed the minutes also testified that Oliva prepared the minutes and they contained whatever he wanted.

The government introduced evidence concerning Oliva's use of Joint Board funds for personal expenditures. One such expenditure, totaling $7,000, was incurred when Oliva arrived on the last day of a 1986 AFL-CIO convention in Florida (a convention he was to attend but not participate in) and remained in Florida for approximately two more weeks. During this time, Oliva spent $800 of the union's money on two tickets for a racing event. Other expenses for which Oliva was reimbursed included limousine service, airfare, hotels and meals relating to two trips he and his wife took to a gun manufacturer in Yakima, Washington. This trip was exclusively for the benefit of Oliva's gun dealership, which he operated from the Joint Board's offices while serving as its manager.

The evidence at trial showed that these appropriations had a false union authorization. The Yakima-related expenses were approved without question by Joint board Secretary Patitucci, who was ostensibly acting on behalf of the Joint Board's "finance committee." In addition, Joint Board minutes purportedly authorized the Yakima trips. These minutes stated that during the trips Oliva met with his peers on ACTWU's Pacific Northwest Joint Board and with a textile manufacturer in that region. A Pacific Northwest Joint Board officer testified at trial that both claims were entirely false.

The evidence also included numerous charges to the Joint Board's Federal Express account that were really incurred on behalf of Oliva's gun business. An office secretary testified not only to the personal nature of these expenses, but also that several times she expressed a concern about paying these charges with union funds, but was told by Oliva to pay them anyway.

When the ACTWU auditors spotted Oliva's purchase of airline tickets to Florida for his children, they questioned Oliva as to its legitimacy. It was only after this inquiry that Oliva ...


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