On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
(D.C. Criminal Nos. 93-cr-00300-02 & 93-cr-00300-03)
Before: COWEN and SAROKIN, Circuit Judges, and POLLAK, District Judge *fn*
Ralph Anderskow and Donald Anchors appeal from judgments of conviction and sentence entered by the District Court for the District of New Jersey. The convictions arise out of their participation, along with several other coconspirators, in the Euro-American Money Fund Trust (the "Trust"), an entity that was used to perpetrate a pernicious advance-fee scheme. Over a three-year period, the Trust bilked unsuspecting loan applicants and investors out of over eighteen million dollars. Both defendants raise evidentiary and legal sufficiency challenges. We will affirm the judgments of conviction.
John Voigt was the mastermind of a scheme to obtain fees from loan applicants and potential investors for nonexistent loans and investments. At the heart of this scheme was the Trust. Voigt fabricated a fictitious genealogy for the Trust, claiming that it was a long-established European financial institution affiliated with the Catholic Church and the Knights of Malta, and that it had access to billions of dollars. For two and one-half years brokers for the Trust would recount this false genealogy to unsuspecting loan applicants and investors, who would part with substantial fees in return for "self-liquidating" loans (loans that repaid themselves) and "Master Collateral Commitments" ("MCCs"), allegedly a special form of commercial paper available only to banks.
Voigt benefitted from the cooperation of several coconspirators, including Anderskow, a partner at a Chicago law firm who also was a certified public accountant. He was hired as the Trust's lawyer in the Chicago area, and his credentials helped provide the Trust with an appearance of legitimacy, which facilitated its attempts to lure loan applicants and potential investors. Anderskow's primary responsibility was providing guarantees to borrowers on behalf of the Trust and maintaining a client escrow account into which advance fees were deposited. Anderskow would immediately distribute fees that had been deposited into his escrow account according to Voigt's instructions, which violated the terms of contracts entered into with the loan applicants and investors. For his role in the Trust Anderskow received $995,000 in compensation.
In January of 1991 appellant Anchors was hired for the position of "loan oversight officer." Somewhat akin to a customer relations manager, Anchors was primarily responsible for responding to questions and complaints from customers of the Trust. Over time, Anchors devoted much of his time to placating loan applicants who had paid advance fees and were calling with increasing frequency to inquire as to the status of their loans. Anchors eventually responded to several hundred calls each month, assuring disgruntled borrowers that their loans were about to be funded. Eventually, Anchors began to tell some applicants that other loans had been funded, which he knew was untrue. Anchors received $325,000 for his participation in the Trust.
In June of 1993, a federal grand jury issued a twenty-six-count indictment against Anderskow, Anchors, and their three coconspirators--Voigt, Mercedes Travis, and Solis Alevy. Alevy entered a plea of guilty and became a government witness. Subsequently, the grand jury issued a twenty-eight-count superseding indictment against the remaining four defendants, charging Anderskow and Anchors with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, and bringing criminal money laundering forfeiture allegations against them.
After a three-month trial, a jury convicted Anderskow on all charges except two counts of wire fraud. Anchors was convicted of conspiracy and seven counts of wire fraud, but was acquitted of seven other counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. *fn1 Anderskow and Anchors were sentenced, respectively, to terms of imprisonment of seventy-eight and thirty-two months. This appeal followed. *fn2
The district court had original jurisdiction over these criminal actions pursuant to 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 3231. We exercise appellate jurisdiction to review final judgments of conviction under 28 U.S.C. 1291.
Both Anderskow and Anchors contest the district court's decision to allow coconspirator Alevy, who pled guilty prior to trial and testified for the government, to give lay opinion testimony under Rule 701 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. *fn3 Alevy's testimony tended to show that Anderskow and Anchors had knowledge of the Trust's fraudulent scheme. Contending that Alevy's allegedly improper testimony provided the government with its only evidence concerning their knowledge that the Trust was a fraud, both defendants claim that this alleged error was so prejudicial as to warrant a new trial. We disagree.
During its case in chief, the government called Alevy to testify about the workings of the Trust and its various components. Specifically, Alevy was asked to explain why in late 1991 he had drafted letters containing false information for Anderskow to sign and send to a victim of the Trust who had paid a substantial advance fee for an MCC, and was becoming angry at not having received it. Anderskow assigns error to the following exchanges between the government and Alevy:
Q. How is it that you, on the one hand, passed false information to Mr. Anderskow but did not intend to deceive him?
A. Mr. Anderskow was a daily participant in the same fraud that I was. I can't get into his mind, I have no way of knowing what he knew inside his mind, but it was obvious to me and told to me by Mr. Voigt that [Anderskow] will do anything we ask him to.
Q. When you passed on that false information to Mr. Anderskow, did you ...