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United States v. Amirnazmi

August 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.


Following a jury trial on February 13, 2009, Defendant was convicted of ten counts of a Superseding Indictment, including: Count One, conspiracy to violate IEEPA, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; Counts Two, Four and Five, violations of IEEPA, in violation of 50 U.S.C. § 1705(c), and of aiding and abetting the same, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2;*fn1 Counts Eight through Ten, false statements to government officials in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001;*fn2 and Counts Eleven through Thirteen, bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344.*fn3 Defendant now moves for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 on Counts One, Two, Four, Five, Eight, either Nine or Ten, and Eleven.*fn4 For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant's Motion.*fn5


Defendant asserts that IEEPA and the IEEPA regulations constitute an unconstitutional delegation of Congress's legislative authority to the executive branch.*fn6 As a result, Defendant urges that he is entitled to judgment of acquittal on all of the IEEPA charges, including Counts One, Two, Four and Five. Defendant argues that IEEPA delegates unbridled discretion to the Executive to promulgate regulations amounting to criminal laws without providing "intelligible principles" upon which to base the same.*fn7 The Court rejected this argument in its January 5, 2009 Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss these charges from the Indictment prior to trial.*fn8 The Court finds no reason to reconsider its prior ruling and will rest on the reasoning therein. Thus, the Court will not grant Defendant a judgment of acquittal on Counts One, Two, Four and Five on this basis.


Defendant argues that he should also be granted judgment of acquittal on the IEEPA changes because the IEEPA regulations issued and administered by OFAC are void for vagueness. Defendant contends that the IEEPA regulations did not give him notice that ChemPlan was not exempt from the Iranian trade embargo as informational materials, nor did they give him notice that he had to obtain a license from OFAC to engage in the business activities that he did.*fn9

A criminal statute or regulation is unconstitutionally vague and violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment if "it fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden."*fn10 Yet, "economic regulation is subject to a less strict vagueness test because its subject matter is often more narrow, and because businesses, which face economic demands to plan behavior carefully, can be expected to consult relevant legislation in advance of action."*fn11 "Indeed, the regulated enterprise may have the ability to clarify the meaning of the regulation by its own inquiry, or by resort to an administrative process."*fn12

Here, the IEEPA regulations restricting trade with Iran "govern the activities of relatively sophisticated individuals who are deliberately engaged in international commerce and, therefore, must be familiar with (if not expert in) various legal regimes... in multiple countries."*fn13 Thus, there is no concern that the IEEPA regulations will "sweep within their coverage the everyday acts of average citizens."*fn14 In addition, the licensing department of OFAC administers the process by which businesses and natural persons can apply for a license or request a letter providing interpretative guidance.*fn15 Moreover, OFAC has an electronic and a telephone hotline that can be contacted with questions regarding the IEEPA regulations.*fn16 In light of the narrow subject matter and reach of the IEEPA regulations, as well as the sophisticated nature of the persons they affect and the ability of such persons to obtain guidance from OFAC itself, the IEEPA regulations are not unconstitutionally vague.*fn17

Moreover, the underlying statute at issue includes a scienter requirement requiring the Government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a criminal defendant acted willfully.*fn18 "In other words, this is a case where ignorance of the law is a defense; the inability to appreciate the meaning of the law negatives the mens rea required for conviction," and Defendant was free to, and did, argue this to the jury.*fn19 The Supreme Court "has recognized that a scienter requirement may mitigate a law's vagueness, especially with respect to the adequacy of notice to the complainant that his conduct is proscribed.*fn20 "[W]here the punishment imposed is only for an act knowingly done with the purpose of doing that which the statute prohibits, the accused cannot be said to suffer from lack of warning or knowledge that the act which he does is a violation of the law."*fn21 Hence, IEEPA's requirement of specific intent further alleviates any concern that Defendant was convicted under a law that he could not have reasonably understood. As IEEPA and its regulations are not unconstitutionally vague, the Court denies Defendant's Motion for a judgment of acquittal on Counts One, Two, Four and Five on this basis.


Defendant also seeks judgment of acquittal on either Count Nine or Count Ten, arguing that the two counts are multiplicitous. Defendant previously moved to dismiss one of these two counts prior to trial,*fn22 but the Court denied that motion without prejudice, finding that the issue was better resolved afterwards.*fn23

At trial, both Special Agent Hueston of the IRS and Special Agent McAllister of the FBI testified that on the morning of June 8, 2008, they interviewed Defendant together at his residence.*fn24 According to their testimony, Defendant told them that his most recent trip to Iran was to visit his mother and to attend a petrochemical forum.*fn25 They testified that Defendant told them he had not signed any agreements regarding business in Iran, either on his most recent trip to Iran or at any time in the past.*fn26 They also stated that Defendant denied to them that he had ever conducted business meetings in Iran.*fn27

Special Agent McAllister testified that after their morning interview of Defendant, she obtained a search warrant for not only Defendant's residence, but also his office in Exton, Pennsylvania.*fn28 The search warrant was executed later that day.*fn29 Special Agent McAllister joined the search of Defendant's office, at which Defendant was present.*fn30 She told Defendant "that agents were looking for any documents or materials relating to any business dealings in Iran, the government of Iran or any entities associated with Iran."*fn31 He responded that there were no such documents.*fn32 When Special Agent McAllister reminded him that he had said that morning that he had drafted but not signed such a document, he replied that they were on his laptop which had been seized by Customs and Border Protection in Detroit.*fn33 Upon being informed that they were going to continue their search, Defendant offered to pull up the requested information on an office computer.*fn34 Special Agent McAllister also testified that because of Defendant's continuing lies, she was forced to keep surveillance on him, review and analyze all of the documents seized and have all of the documents written in Farsi translated.*fn35

Defendant argues that because Agent McAllister was present during Agent Hueston's interview of Defendant, Counts Nine and Ten are therefore multiplicitous. Defendant advocates that the Court adopt a test used by other circuits allowing separate violations for identical false statements under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 only if (1) the declarant was asked the same question and gave the same answer; and (2) the later false statement further impaired the operations of the government.*fn36 Yet, the first flaw with Defendant's logic is that he did not give identical false statements. As the testimony at the trial clearly demonstrates, Defendant was not asked the same question nor did he give the same answer on the morning of June 6, 2008 as compared to the evening of that same day. When he was interviewed by Special Agent Hueston and Special Agent McAllister, Defendant made false statements relating to the purpose of his most recent trip to Iran, whether he had ever had business meetings in Iran and whether he had signed any agreements regarding business in Iran. In contrast, on the evening of June 6, 2008, Defendant made false statements as to the existence and location of documents relating to his business dealings in Iran. Hence, Defendant is not entitled to a judgment of acquittal on Count Nine or Count Ten, even under the test he advances, so the Court need not decide whether to adopt it.

Furthermore, Special Agent McAllister testified how Defendant's lying further impaired their investigation, forcing the investigating agents to review the many documents by themselves and to verify independently anything told to them by Defendant. Thus, Count Nine and Count Ten are not multiplicitous as the false statements underlying the two counts were not identical and the later statement did further impair the Government's investigation of Defendant. As Defendant advances no ...

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