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United States of America v. John Poltonowicz

February 5, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOHN POLTONOWICZ



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendant John Poltonowicz's pro se Motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence based on a claim that his counsel was ineffective at sentencing. (Doc. Nos. 158 and 161.)*fn1

On February 15, 2008, a jury convicted Defendant of twenty-seven counts of conspiracy, aiding, assisting, and counseling the filing of false tax returns, mail and wire fraud, making false statements to a financial institution to obtain a loan, and making false statements to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"). (Doc. No. 117.) On June 10, 2008, Judge James T. Giles sentenced Defendant to forty-eight months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release, to pay a fine of $10,000, a special assessment of $2,700, and restitution in the amount of $400,000. (Doc. No. 203 at 2.) Defendant appealed and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence. (Doc. No. 154.)

On January 3, 2011, the matter was re-assigned to this Court. (Doc. No. 156.) On March 8 and 21, 2011, Defendant sought relief under § 2255 based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. (Doc. Nos. 158 and 161.) The matter was then referred to Chief United States Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells for a Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 162.)*fn2 On November 4, 2011, the Government filed its Response in Opposition. (Doc. No. 171.)

On August 16, 2012, Judge Wells recommended denial of the instant 2255 Motion without an evidentiary hearing. (Doc. No. 203.) On August 31, 2012, Defendant filed timely objections to the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 207.)

For reasons that follow, the Court will approve and adopt Judge Wells' Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 203) and deny Defendant's 2255 Motion (Doc. Nos. 158 and 161) without an evidentiary hearing. Moreover, a certificate of appealability will not be issued.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On February 15, 2008, Defendant was convicted after an eight-day jury trial of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1001, 1014, 1341, and 1343, and 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2). (Doc. No. 171 at 3-4.) Defendant's conviction was based mainly on the preparation of false tax returns for clients of Matrix Tax Service, Inc., Defendant's tax preparation business. (Id. at 3.)

On June 10, 2008, Defendant was sentenced. (Doc. No. 203 at 2.) Defendant represented himself at trial, but was represented by counsel, John R. Crayton ("Defense Counsel"), at sentencing. (Id.) At sentencing, the court stated that "[o]ne of the central disagreements pertains to the calculation of loss to the United States [for the filing of false tax returns] as prepared by the prosecution and [which] has been utilized by the probation officer in the preparation of the [pre-sentence] report." (Doc. No. 171-1 at 3-4.)

The Government presented evidence of the loss through IRS Agent James T. Morris ("Agent Morris"). (Doc. No. 171 at 4-5.) At trial, the evidence showed that Defendant had prepared approximately 25,000 tax returns, of which about 25% were fraudulent. (Id. at 4 n.2.) However, in calculating the tax loss for sentencing purposes, Agent Morris focused only on the 225 individual tax returns that were actually audited by the IRS Civil Division. (Id.) He reviewed each audited return, and included in the total those return items that "had the same characteristics of fraud that were found in the trial," which included "abusive charitable contributions or employee business expenses, inflated Schedule Cs, improper earned income tax credits, and separate filings for married couples." (Id. at 4-5 (internal quotations and citations omitted).) Agent Morris was not able to obtain all 225 IRS audit files, and therefore he had to make certain inferences in calculating the total loss, which were supported with "close correspondence between the audited returns and [Defendant]'s established pattern of conduct, and with the fact that all of the selected audited returns had been prepared by [Defendant] personally, [as well as] interviews of more than 50 of the 225 taxpayers whose audited returns were being considered." (Id. at 5 (citations omitted).) Agent Morris calculated the Government's total tax loss to be $419,853.20. (Id.)

Both prior to and at sentencing, Defense Counsel strenuously objected to the Government's loss calculation, arguing that not all of the returns Defendant prepared were fraudulent. (Id. at 5-6 (citations omitted).) Defense Counsel "submitted signed statements from several of [Defendant]'s clients which stated that they had bad experiences with the IRS, that their returns were accurate, or that [Defendant] had nothing to do with the false entries on their tax returns." (Id. at 6 (citation omitted).) On cross-examination, Defense Counsel challenged, among other things, Agent Morris' methodology by pointing out that he did not have audit files for all 225 of the audited returns (Doc. No. 171-1 at 22-24); Defense Counsel questioned the manner in which Agent Morris' office conducted the audits (id. at 24-28); and he reiterated that Agent Morris did not interview all 225 individuals whose tax returns were audited and therefore the loss was based largely on assumptions (id. at 28-30, 33-36). Defense Counsel then argued, in relevant part, the following:

Eventually, I was provided with audit files and also [Defendant] gave me discovery material. And I will concede that if you go through all of those materials and you match up those people who have actually, affirmatively said to the IRS there was a problem with the tax return, the problem resulted from the conduct of [Defendant], you will end up in an 80,000 to - more than 80,000 less than $200,000 range. . . . .

What the government has done is they said, as Agent Morris has explained it, we just assumed that everybody that had an audit and everybody that had a contribution expense or unreimbursed business expense, this ...


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