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United States of America v. Mohit Vohra

May 4, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MOHIT VOHRA, JASPRET KAUR, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM RE: POST-TRIAL MOTIONS

I.Introduction

On May 27, 2010, a federal grand jury returned a Superseding Indictment against Defendants Mohit Vohra ("Vohra") and Jaspret Kaur ("Kaur"). (ECF No. 62) Count I of the Superseding Indictment charged Vohra with conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (B)(1)(A). Count II charged Vohra with possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B). Counts III through XV charged both Vohra and Kaur with one Count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), and twelve Counts of the substantive offense of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(I).

On January 10-11, 2011, a jury trial was held before the Honorable John P. Fullam on all Counts of the Superseding Indictment. On the second day of the trial, the court ordered a mistrial on the grounds that Counts III-XV, the money laundering counts, should be severed and tried separately from Counts I and II. (ECF No. 111) On March 1, 2011, Vohra pleaded guilty to Counts I and II. (ECF No. 116)

On April 18, 2011, the case was reassigned to this Court. (ECF No. 125) Counts III-XV of the Superseding Indictment were tried before a jury on August 15-16, 2011; Vohra and Kaur were convicted on all Counts. During trial, immediately following the government's presentation of its case, counsel for each Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 29. (Tr. II, 75-82) The Court reserved judgment on the Motions. (Tr. II, 80) After the trial concluded, Vohra and Kaur renewed their Motions for Judgment of Acquittal in writing, and Kaur also filed a Motion for a New Trial under Fed. R. Civ. P. 33. (ECF Nos. 157-59) Briefing on the post-trial motions was completed on February 22, 2012.

On March 7, 2012, the Court held oral argument. At the Court's invitation, the government submitted a supplemental brief prior to argument that provided a chronology of the events and related evidence that allegedly comprised Defendants' money laundering offenses. (ECF No. 174) After carefully considering the written submissions and oral arguments of the parties, the Court issued an Order on March 12, 2012 denying all of Defendants' post-trial motions. (ECF No. 183) The Court indicated in its Order that a Memorandum explaining its ruling would issue in due course. Accordingly, the reasons for that Order are explained below.

II. Factual Background

A. Vohra's Transportation and Delivery of Drugs

On March 21, 2009, Vohra was stopped by the Missouri Highway Patrol while driving an 18-wheel truck from California to Pennsylvania to deliver a load of refrigerated pasta. (Tr. I, 44-45) It was discovered during the stop that he was carrying a large quantity of cocaine. The Highway Patrol contacted the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who sent DEA Agent George Krieg to meet with Vohra. When Agent Krieg arrived, Vohra agreed to cooperate with the DEA by making a controlled delivery of the cocaine in his vehicle. (Tr. I, 45) Vohra identified a man named "Raj" as the man who was organizing the distribution of the cocaine. (Tr. I, 46-47)

On March 22 and 23, 2009, Agent Krieg and other law enforcement accompanied Vohra as he continued his drive to Philadelphia to complete the controlled delivery. (Tr. I, 54-55) During the drive, Vohra spoke to Raj over the phone to explain his delay in reaching Philadelphia, which call was recorded by law enforcement. Vohra and Raj spoke in Punjabi, their native language. (Tr. I, 49) When asked to relay the contents of his conversation to Agent Krieg, Vohra omitted one portion of the conversation in which it appears that the two men were referencing prior drug deals.*fn1 When the calls were later transcribed through the use of an interpreter, the government learned the full content of the calls. (Tr. I, 70, 83)

When Vohra arrived in Philadelphia on March 23, 2009, DEA Task Force Officer Peter Sarris assumed control of the investigation. A series of recorded phone calls were made between Vohra and Raj to arrange the delivery of the cocaine, and Vohra eventually delivered the cocaine to a man named Francisco Salgado-Matos. (Tr. I, 155-57) Salgado-Matos was arrested after he received a suitcase of cocaine from Vohra and put it in his car. (Tr. I, 157)

After Salgado-Matos' arrest, Officer Sarris and Vohra discussed the need for someone in Vohra's trucking company to take possession of the refrigerated pasta remaining in the trailer. At that time, Vohra confessed there were more bags of drugs hidden in the trailer. (Tr. I, 159) Vohra consented to a search, during which trash bags containing over 1300 pounds of marijuana were discovered and seized from the trailer. (Tr. I, 159-62) At trial, Officer Sarris testified that the cocaine transported by Vohra was worth more than an estimated $2 million and the marijuana was worth more than an estimated $1 million. (Tr. I, 162)

B. Vohra's Accounts at Bank of America

Vohra had four accounts at Bank of America (BOA) prior to his arrest. The accounts included a standard checking account, a business checking account, a savings account, and a certificate of deposit. Between February 28, 2008 and January 8, 2009, a total of $27,600 cash was deposited into the standard checking account in seven installments of exactly two, three, four, or five thousand dollars and one installment of $2,600. (Tr. II, 44) Between February 14, 2008 and January 15, 2009, a total of $25,000 cash was deposited into the business checking account in seven installments of exactly two, six, or nine thousand dollars. (Tr. II, 40-41) All together, the cash deposits into Vohra's standard checking and business checking accounts during this period amounted to $52,600.

C. The Phone Calls Between Vohra and Kaur and the Contemporaneous Money Transfers

On March 20, 2009, during Vohra's trip from California to Pennsylvania but before he had been stopped by law enforcement, a call was placed from Vohra's phone to Kaur's phone. The call lasted 637 seconds. Audio File 3/15/11 at 2:42-2:43 (ECF No. 144).

There were no phone calls between Vohra's and Kaur's phones on March 21, 22, and 23, 2009. However, on March 24, 2009, after Vohra had been arrested and incarcerated in the Federal Detention Center, Kaur's phone called Vohra's phone eight times. All of the calls lasted less than 25 seconds. Similarly, on March 25, 2009, Kaur's phone called Vohra's phone three times, for less than 27 seconds per call. Audio File 3/15/11 at 2:42-2:43 (ECF No. 144).

Beginning on March 26, 2009 and extending through March 31, 2009, Vohra used a phone at the Federal Detention Center to call Kaur's phone ten times. Audio File 3/15/11 at 2:37-2:40 (ECF No. 107). Vohra and Kaur also spoke multiple times in August 2009, and transcripts of those phone calls were introduced as evidence. Most notably, in a call that took place on August 16, 2009, Vohra directed Kaur as follows: "Do this, empty my bank." (Tr. I, 191)

D. The Money Transfers

On March 25, 2009-after Vohra had been arrested, but before he and Kaur were able to connect on the phone, as detailed above-two checks totaling $86,500 were drawn from Vohra's business checking account and made payable to Jaspret Kaur. The first check was for $26,500 and the words "Pay Back Loan" were handwritten in the memo section. (Tr. II, 19-23) The second check was for $60,000 and the words "Loan Pay Back" were handwritten in the memo section. (Tr. II, 19-23) The business checking account contained approximately $90,000 at that time, so the withdrawals would have nearly emptied the account. (Tr. II, 24)

The DEA financial analyst who testified at trial testified that a loan payback is not ordinarily treated as income to the recipient for tax purposes. (Tr. II, 20) The analyst also testified that his investigation had not uncovered any evidence of an actual loan between Vohra and Kaur before March 25, 2009; indeed, he found no evidence that any money had been moved between their accounts in the previous two years (Tr. II, 23, 49)

Ultimately, Bank of America reviewed the two checks but determined that the signatures on the checks did not, in fact, match Mohit Vohra's signature. (Tr. II, 28) Accordingly, the bank declined to transfer the money out of Vohra's account.

On March 30, 2009, Officer Sarris met with Kaur to return Vohra's personal property to her. At the meeting, Officer Sarris told Kaur that Vohra had been arrested with "a lot of cocaine in his car." (Tr. I, 165) That same day, and only a few days after Vohra began calling Kaur from the Federal Detention Center, Kaur began a series of online transfers of money from Vohra's personal checking account at BOA into her personal checking account at BOA. Stipulated evidence provided that the IP address associated with Kaur's computer was the IP address used to make the transfers, and Kaur does not dispute that she, in fact, made the transfers. (Tr. II, 77)

The transfers occurred on the following dates and in the following amounts ...


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