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United States. v. Phillips

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 26, 2013




The forfeiture of the property belonging to Defendant Maurice Phillips is once again before the Court. At hand is the resolution of Defendant’s Emergency Motion to Stay Enforcement of the Court’s Preliminary Order of Forfeiture For Substitute Asset. For the reasons set forth below, the motion shall be DENIED.

Factual Background

Defendant, Maurice Phillips, was charged and convicted in this matter for his role as founder, organizer, and leader of the Phillips Cocaine Organization (hereinafter “PCO”). The charges against Mr. Phillips included: (1) conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; (2) engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848; (3) conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h); (4) two counts of concealment of money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i); (5) conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958; (6) use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958; and (7) murder, tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1111(a), 1512 (a)(1)(c). Defendant’s role in PCO, a multimillion dollar cocaine distribution organization, which spanned the eastern seaboard of the United States, lasted from 1998 through 2007. The $31, 000, 000 estimated value of the cocaine distributed was used towards acquiring and maintaining a lavish lifestyle - including new homes and automobiles, attaining additional businesses, paying the legal fees for criminally charged PCO employees, and engendering loyalty among PCO employees and associates.

PCO’s prominence as a cocaine distributor was not achieved in isolation; PCO was dependent upon conspiracies with other illicit organizations. Particularly, PCO conspired with, among others, Chineta Glanville, a professional money launderer to conceal the drug proceeds, and the Alvear Cocaine Supply Organization, a cocaine supply organization based in Texas which arranged for the receipt of the substance from Mexico. However, the conspiracies extended beyond the day-to-day operational logistics of the business. Ultimately, Mr. Phillips was convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of Chineta Glanville to prevent her from cooperating with law enforcement authorities in their investigation into Defendant’s businesses.

In light of these actions, in addition to his concurrent life sentences, the grand jury found that probable cause existed to support a Notice of Forfeiture. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 982 and 21 U.S.C. § 853, respectively, this Notice required Defendant to forfeit “any property constituting, or derived from, proceeds obtained directly or indirectly, as the result of, ” and any “property used or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission of” the offenses for which he was convicted. The property to be forfeited was equal to at least $31, 000, 000 - the wholesale value of the cocaine acquired by and sold through PCO. Following this order of forfeiture, Mr. Phillips appealed his conviction.

Although not originally included in the Notice of Forfeiture, the Government moved to include certain real property located at 45 Cedar Avenue in Newark, New Jersey, [1] under 21 U.S.C. § 853(p) and Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(e). The property was added in partial satisfaction of the remaining debt of the forfeiture money judgment entered against Defendant. Defendant has since moved to stay enforcement of the Order of Forfeiture for Substitute Asset pending his criminal appeal.


Under Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2, a stay of forfeiture may be granted pending an appeal of conviction or an order of forfeiture. Specifically, that Rule states, in relevant part: “If a defendant appeals from a conviction or an order of forfeiture, the court may stay the order of forfeiture on terms appropriate to ensure that the property remains available pending appellate review.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.2(d). In order to sustain a motion for a stay pending an appeal, the movant must have made a strong showing that: (1) his appeal is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) the issuance of the stay will not substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) that the public interest lies in favor of the movant. Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770, 776 (1987). Although each factor is crucial to the Court’s analysis and decision, “no one aspect will necessarily determine its outcome.” Constructors Ass'n of W. Pa. v. Kreps, 573 F.2d 811, 815 (3d Cir. 1978). We turn now to an analysis of each of the foregoing factors.

I. Likelihood of Success on Appeal

We first find that Mr. Phillips’ motion to stay the order of forfeiture fails as his criminal appeal is not likely to be successful. See, e.g., Hilton, 481 U.S. at 776. In his motion to stay the forfeiture of his property, Mr. Phillips claims that he will be successful on appeal due in part to the fact that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. (Defendant’s Emergency Motion to Stay Enforcement of District Court’s “Preliminary Order of Forfeiture for Substitute Asset, ” p. 3). “The benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984) (emphasis added). However, in his direct appeal of his criminal case, Defendant discusses only the conduct of the prosecutor, not his defense attorney. Given that it was not counsel’s conduct, but rather the prosecutor’s that is at issue, we surmise that Mr. Phillips’ claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was actually meant to address prosecutorial misconduct. Under this presumption, we turn now to Mr. Phillips’ argument.

To sustain a claim of prosecutorial misconduct, a reviewing court must “examine the prosecutor's offensive actions in context and in light of the entire trial, assessing the severity of the conduct[, ]” and its effects. Moore v. Morton, 255 F.3d 95, 107 (3d Cir. 2001). If the conduct of the prosecutor “infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process[, ]” the court may overturn a conviction. Donnelly v. DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. 637, 643 (1974).

Mr. Phillips claims that the prosecutorial misconduct amounts to two Brady violations, and thus infringes on his right to Due Process. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963). A claim alleging a Brady violation must demonstrate: (1) that evidence was suppressed; (2) the suppressed evidence was favorable to the defense; and (3) the suppressed evidence was material to either guilt or punishment. United States v. Higgs, 713 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1983).

In the case at hand, Mr. Phillips argues that the prosecution withheld evidence regarding the criminal history and patterns of two witnesses against him, that this withheld evidence was favorable to the defense, and that if the evidence had been presented, the witnesses testifying against him would have been discredited and he would not have been convicted. These alleged circumstances would qualify as a Brady violation under the requirements, and as held in Mooney, a Due Process violation. Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103, 112 (1935). However, if the withheld ...

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