The opinion of the court was delivered by: CYNTHIA RUFE, District Judge
On October 9, 2003, a jury convicted Defendant Lethu Bui of seven
counts of misappropriation of postal funds in violation of
18 U.S.C. § 1711. Presently before the Court is Defendant's
Post-Verdict Motion for a Judgment of Acquittal, for a New Trial, and/or
for Arrest of Judgment. For the reasons below, Defendant's Motion is
denied in all respects.
I. GOVERNMENT'S EVIDENCE PRESENTED AT TRIAL
In October and November 2000, Defendant was employed by the United
States Postal Service as a window clerk at the Castle Retail Store in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 10/6/03 N.T. at 33. Window clerks sell
stamps, packaging, money orders and other postal products, and are
accountable for all sales and cash retained in their cash drawer.
Id. at 32.
In November 2000, Defendant deposited personal checks for $1,500 and
$1,450 into her cash drawer and removed a corresponding amount of Postal
Service funds. Id. at 33-35; Gov't Exs. 1-2 (Check #002, dated 10/30/00,
for $1500; Check #001, dated 10/31/00, for $1450). Defendant's
supervisor, Ronald J. DeLollis, learned about the checks when the Postal
Service accounting department asked him to identify the source of the
checks because the bank had rejected them. 10/6/03 N.T. at 33, 36. The
two personal checks were written by Defendant and made
payable to herself. Id. at 34. DeLollis explained to Defendant that she
was not permitted to cash personal checks in her cash drawer. Id. at 36.
At DeLollis's direction, Defendant repaid the $2,950 amount for both
checks the next day. Id. at 37.
Soon thereafter, Postal Service management discovered that Defendant
cashed five additional checks under the same circumstances, and that the
bank had rejected those checks as well. Id. at 37-38; Gov't Ex 3 (Check
#1835, dated ___- ___-___, for $3,000); Gov't Ex. 4 (Check #1841, dated
11-08-00, for $2,450); Gov't Ex. 5 (Check #1842, dated 11-___-___, for
$3500); Gov't Ex. 6 (Check#1840, dated 11-10-00, for $3,950); Gov't Ex.7
(Check#1838, dated 11-13-00, for $3,950).*fn1 All seven checks were
drawn on HSBC Bank joint checking account no. 125-05626-5, which was
shared by Defendant and her boyfriend, Michael Hung La, an HSBC Bank
employee. Gov't Exs. 1-7, 28; 10/7/03 N.T. at 112-14. The joint account
was funded by sums of cash Defendant gave to La for deposit. Id. at
116-17. La monitored the account to ensure there were no overdrafts.
10/7/03 N.T. at 117. Recognizing that the account had insufficient funds
and that Defendant was writing checks that caused overdrafts, La stopped
payment on the first two checks and later closed the account before the
other five checks could clear. Id. at 118, 126, 129, 135-39; 10/8/03
N.T. at 12-14, 16, 30-31.
Defendant's co-worker, Kristy Bradford, asked Defendant why she was
cashing personal checks in the cash drawer, and Defendant told Bradford
that she needed to send money to her family. Id. at 10. Defendant gave
the same explanation to her supervisor. 10/6/03 N.T. at 36. Bradford told
Defendant that window clerks are not allowed to cash personal checks in
their cash drawer. 10/7/03 N.T. at 10.
Postal Inspector Frank C. O' Connor interviewed Defendant on December
8, 2000 and September 24, 2001. 10/8/03 N.T. at 121-22, 140. During the
first interview, Defendant admitted that she had cashed personal checks
through her cash drawer and had used the money to buy a computer, to send
to her family in California, and for personal expenses. Id. at 124-25.
Inspector O'Connor also investigated Defendant's wagering records and
learned that Defendant had "rather significant wagering activity at the
Atlantic City casinos." Id. at 127, 141. Her boyfriend testified that
Defendant had a "gambling problem," and that when Defendant went to the
casinos, she played craps. Id. at 9; 10/7/03 N.T. at 111. At the second
interview with Inspector O'Connor, Defendant admitted that she liked to
gamble, but said she played slot machines. 10/8/03 N.T. at 142. Defendant
also admitted to O'Connor that she used some proceeds of the overdrafted
checks for gambling. Id. at 144. Mark Walter, a casino administrator at
the Trump Marina Hotel Casino, testified that Defendant's gambling losses
at his casino for the year 2000 exceeded $27,700. 10/7/03 N.T. at 85.
Inspector O'Connor's investigation revealed that Defendant's total
gambling losses for the year 2000 exceeded $48,000. 10/8/03 N.T. at 149.
II. DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL
Defendant moves for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of
Criminal Procedure 29(c), and argues that there was insufficient evidence
to convict her of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1711. In so arguing,
Defendant takes up "a very heavy," "extremely high" burden. United
v. Serafini, 233 F.3d 758, 770 (3d Cir. 2000); United States v. Coyle,
63 F.3d 1239, 1243 (3d Cir. 1995). Because Defendant is appealing a jury
verdict against her, the Court must view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the Government and must sustain the jury's verdict if a
reasonable jury believing the Government's evidence could find beyond a
reasonable doubt that the Government proved all the elements of the
offense. United States v. Pressler, 256 F.3d 144, 149 (3d Cir. 2001). The
Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the jury's
verdict. United States v. Smith, 294 F.3d 473, 476 (3d Cir. 2002). A
finding of insufficiency should "be confined to cases where the
prosecution's failure is clear." Id. at 477 (citation omitted).
Section 1711 of Title 18 of the United States Code, entitled
"misappropriation of postal funds," provides, in relevant part:
Whoever, being a Postal Service officer or employee,
loans, uses, pledges, hypothecates, or converts to his
own use, or deposits in any bank, or exchanges for
other funds or property, except as authorized by law,
any money or property coming into his hands or under
his control in any manner, in the execution or under
color of his office, employment, or service, whether
or not the same shall be the money or property of the
United States . . . is guilty of embezzlement.
In the context of this case, to secure a conviction under § 1711,
the Government had to prove at trial that: (1) Defendant was an employee
of the United States Postal Service at the time of the acts charged; (2)
Defendant did knowingly and intentionally*fn2
convert to her own use
money or property; and (3) such money or property came under her control
in the execution or under color of her office or employment. Defendant
does not dispute that she was a Postal Service employee at the time of
the acts charged and that she withdrew cash from her Postal Service cash
drawer. Accordingly, the
first and third elements of the offense are not at issue here.
Defendant argues that she lacked the requisite intent to convert the
money to her own use because she expected the checks would clear. She
argues that the bank rejected the checks not because she deposited them
in her cash drawer, but because La stopped payment on two checks and
closed the account before the other five checks could clear. La took
these actions without Defendant's knowledge or permission. 10/8/03 N.T.
at 12-14, 16. Therefore, she contends, because she was ignorant of the
stop-payment and account closure, the Government cannot show she had the
requisite intent to convert postal funds to her personal use. See United
States v. Cianciulli, 482 F. Supp. 585, 620 (E.D. Pa. 1979) ("[I]f a
person acts inadvertently, accidentally or by good faith mistake, (s)he is
not acting `knowingly or willfully'". . . .). This argument is
The Government presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable
jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant knew she was
converting postal funds to her own use. It is true that when La stopped
payment on the first two checks, his actions were the cause-in-fact of the
checks being returned to the Postal Service. Nonetheless, the Government
presented evidence that even if La had not stopped payment on these
checks, they would have caused an overdraft. See 10/7/03 N.T. at 139.
According to the bank statement, the balance was $665.25 on November 1,
2000. On November 2, 2000, there was a deposit of $500; assuming this
check cleared with the issuing bank, the balance would have been
$1150.25. That same day, La stopped payment on two checks for $1,500 and
$1,450, respectively. See Bank Statement for 10/20/00 to ...