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United States v. Siddons

December 10, 2009


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


On March 3, 2009, Defendant Daniel Siddons pled guilty to numerous Counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud. (Doc. No. 65.) The charges stemmed from Defendant's schemes to misappropriate almost $1.6 million from investors -- primarily senior citizens -- and to secure bank loans and credit by dishonest means.

On July 15, 2009, Defendant filed a counseled "Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea," alleging that: 1) he is innocent; and 2) his prior counsel was ineffective. (Doc. No. 80.) Having conducted an evidentiary hearing, I find that Defendant has not shown any entitlement to relief. Accordingly, I deny his Motion.

I. Procedural History

On November 15, 2007, the grand jury charged Defendant with nine Counts of mail fraud, five Counts of wire fraud, one Count of bank fraud. 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1343, 1344. On April 10, 2008, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment, charging Defendant with twenty-four Counts of mail fraud, eight Counts of wire fraud, and one Count of bank fraud. (Doc. No. 21.) On October 9, 2008, the grand jury returned a second superseding indictment adding a Count of bank fraud. (Doc. No. 33.) Defendant was represented during this investigation by retained counsel, Gregory T. Magarity.

After several continuances, trial was to begin on November 12, 2008 -- a year after the return of the original indictment. On November 5, 2008, Defendant sought another continuance to allow him more time to prepare his defense. (Doc. No. 40.) The Government vigorously objected, arguing that because many of its witnesses were elderly and seriously ill, additional delay would be prejudicial. (Doc. No. 41.) I overruled the Government's objection and granted Defendant's request. (Doc. No. 43.)

As I explain below, when Defendant said he could no longer afford counsel, Mr. Magarity agreed to continue representing him pursuant to Court appointment. On February 3, 2009, Defendant submitted a pro se letter in which he asked me to replace Mr. Magarity. I conducted a hearing on February 6, 2009, at which Defendant first demonstrated to me his extraordinarily tenuous relationship with the truth.

Defendant initially testified that he wanted a new lawyer because Mr. Magarity had said he would withdraw if Defendant did not plead guilty. See Hr'g Tr. 3-4, Feb. 6, 2009. When I credited Mr. Magarity's refutation of Defendant's version of events, Defendant immediately revised that version, this time testifying that Mr. Magarity had said "he had to consider withdrawing." Id. at 5:16. When I credited Mr. Magarity's refutation of this version of events, Defendant revised that version, this time agreeing with my observation that Mr. Magarity was "trying to do the best he can for you." Id. at 6:13-14. A few moments later, however, Defendant revised that assessment, stating that he did not "think [Mr. Magarity] has my best interest at heart" because Mr. Magarity purportedly refused to prepare for trial and had not interviewed six potential witnesses. Id. at 9:20. Defendant, who is not a lawyer, said, "I don't want to try this case twice [because of] ineffective assistance of counsel." Id. at 11:10-12. Once again I discredited Defendant and credited Mr. Magarity's assurances that he would continue to represent Defendant zealously and that he would be prepared to go to trial. I again told Defendant, "I believe Mr. Magarity is doing the best he can for you." Id. at 11:24-25. Remarkably, Defendant responded, "I know he is." Id. at 12:1. I subsequently found that "Defendant's... complaints about his counsel were simply an attempt to manipulate the Court and the system, a dishonest attempt at that." Hr'g Tr. 76:18-21, March 3, 2009.

Having discredited Defendant's criticisms of counsel, I ruled that he had not presented a valid reason to replace Mr. Magarity. See Hr'g Tr. 12, Feb. 6, 2009; Fischetti v. Johnson, 384 F.3d 140, 145 (3d Cir. 2004) ("A defendant's right to counsel is not without limit and cannot be the justification for inordinate delay or manipulation."); United States v. McFadden, 630 F.2d 963, 972 (3d Cir. 1980) ("[T]he trial court has considerable discretion in refusing to delay the trial in order to secure substitute counsel even though there is some indication of a defendant's dissatisfaction with his initial counsel.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

Trial was ultimately set to begin on March 10, 2009. On February 27, 2009, Defendant decided to plead guilty. On March 3, 2009, I attempted to conduct a guilty plea colloquy with Defendant. Early in the colloquy, however, Defendant again sought to raise the same complaints about Mr. Magarity that I had discredited during the February 6th hearing. I told Defendant that I could not in these circumstances accept his guilty plea, and that the matter would proceed to trial.

See Hr'g Tr. 6:7-10, March 3, 2009. Accordingly, I ended the colloquy and immediately began a hearing on pre-trial motions. At the hearing's conclusion, Defendant stated that he now wanted to plead guilty to one of the charges. Id. at 40:13-16. I advised Defendant that "[p]leading guilty is a very serious thing," and that I could not accept his plea as "knowing, voluntary, and intelligent" as long as he continued to fabricate criticisms of Mr. Magarity. Id. at 41:14-18. I ordered a recess to allow Defendant to confer with counsel.

After meeting with his lawyers for almost an hour, Defendant again stated that he wanted to plead guilty to all charges. When Defendant was again sworn, I told him that "in light of the difficulties that we've had, it is especially important that you understand that you are under oath... [a]nd that you give me truthful answers, whatever those answers might be." Id. at 42:19-24. I explained that Defendant had "an absolute right to go to trial" and that "you don't have to plead guilty." Id. at 42:2-8. Defendant stated that he understood. I then conducted a lengthy plea colloquy, during which I again asked Defendant if he was satisfied with counsel:

THE COURT: And are you satisfied with Mr. Magarity's representation of you?

THE DEFENDANT: I am, sir, yes.

THE COURT: Are you certain of that?

THE DEFENDANT: I am, sir, yes.

THE COURT: You've had a chance to think about it. You're satisfied with Mr. Magarity -- I want to be absolutely clear about this. You're stating under oath that you are satisfied with Mr. Magarity's representation of you, correct?

THE DEFENDANT: Unequivocally so, yes, sir.

Id. at 46:12-21.

During the colloquy, the prosecutor presented an extensive description of the plea's factual basis, setting out Count by Count Defendant's wrongful actions and the supporting evidence the Government was prepared to present at trial. Defendant admitted to those wrongful actions and repeatedly stated that he was "freely and voluntarily pleading guilty" to the crimes charged because he was guilty. Id. at 62-63. After questioning Defendant closely in accordance with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, I accepted his guilty plea because I was convinced that Defendant had decided to end his manipulative efforts and acknowledge his guilt. Accordingly, I found, inter alia, that "Defendant is pleading guilty with his eyes fully open and [that] he knows exactly what he is doing as advised by counsel and the Court and the Government." Id. at 76:22-25.

On June 2, 2009, the Probation Office issued its Presentence Investigation Report, calculating Defendant's Guidelines range at 78 to 97 months imprisonment. PSR, ¶ 127. On July 15, 2009, Defendant, having retained new counsel, filed the instant Motion to withdraw his plea. (Doc. No. 80.) Defendant argues that he is innocent, and again makes the criticisms of Mr. Magarity that I discredited on February 6th (and that he "unequivocally" withdrew on March 3rd). Significantly, nowhere in his Motion does Defendant allege that counsel's purported ineffectiveness caused Defendant to plead guilty.

II. Findings of Fact

On October 23, 2009, I held a hearing on Defendant's Motion. Defendant and his father testified, as did Mr. Magarity and his former associate, Mark Drasnin. I largely discredit the testimony of both Defendant and his father. I credit the testimony of Messrs. Magarity and Drasnin, who convincingly explained their efforts on behalf of Defendant, as well as the difficulties they faced. In accordance with Rule 12(d), I make the following factual findings. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 12(d).

A. The Investigation and Indictments

The grand jury initially investigated Defendant in connection with allegations that he had abused his position as a loan advisor at Wachovia Bank and First Union Securities, Inc. In late 2006, Defendant retained Mr. Magarity to represent him in connection with a grand jury subpoena duces tecum he had received. See Hr'g Tr. 105-106, Oct. 23, 2009. A former First Assistant and Frauds Division Chief in the U.S. Attorney's Office for this District, Mr. ...

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