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United States v. Mastronardo

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 13, 2013

UNITED STATES
v.
JOSEPH VITO MASTRONARDO, JR. JOHN MASTRONARDO JOSEPH F. MASTRONARDO ERIC WOEHLCKE HARRY MURRAY JOSEPH VITELLI ANNA ROSE VITELLI PATRICK TRONOSKI EDWARD FEIGHAN KENNETH COHEN SCHUYLER TWADDLE MICHAEL LOFTUS RONALD GENDRACHI JOANNA MASTRONARDO

MEMORANDUM

DuBOIS, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 1, 2012, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charged defendants with a twenty-three count indictment. Presently before the Court is Government’s Motion to Admit Evidence Intrinsic to the Charged Offenses or Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 404(b) [hereinafter Government’s Motion to Admit Evidence]. In that motion, the government seeks to admit the following six pieces of evidence:

(1) Testimony concerning the relationship between the defendants, witnesses, and cooperators relating to their betting and bookmaking histories that precedes the dates of the conspiracy charged in the indictment;
(2) The guilty pleas of Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr., John Mastronardo, and Edward Feighan in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, following their 2006 arrests where the defendants admitted to participating in a gambling conspiracy . . .;
(3) The probation terms and conditions that bound Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr. and John Mastronardo subsequent to their guilty pleas . . .;
(4) The payment of expenses associated with Schuyler Twaddles’s drug rehabilitation by Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr. . . .;
(5) Two conversations from the court-authorized wiretap on April 12, 2006, between Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr. and Patrick Higgins concerning the preparation of tax returns . . .; and
(6) Copies of United States v. Joseph Vito Mastronardo Jr., et al., 849 F.2d 799 (1988) and Ratzlaf v. United States, [510] U.S. 135 (1994), that were seized during execution of a search warrant on March 29, 2010, at 1671 Stockton Road.

Gov’t’s Mot. to Admit Evid. 1–2.

In their joint response to this motion, defendants Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr., Joseph F. Mastronardo, and Joanna Mastronardo challenge the admissibility of the evidence identified in paragraphs three, five, and six above on three grounds: the evidence is (i) inadmissible character evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)(1); (ii) unfairly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403; or (iii) the result of an illegal wiretap under 18 U.S.C. § 2518(5). Defendant Tronoski joined the response of defendants Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr., Joseph F. Mastronardo, and Joanna Mastronardo and separately challenges the relevance of all six categories of evidence. For the reasons that follow, Government’s Motion to Admit Evidence is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

Defendants have been indicted for crimes arising from their alleged participation in an illegal gambling business — the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization (“MBO”).[2] The MBO was headquartered in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania with members and associates located across the United States and in Costa Rica. Defendants worked as bookmakers, agents, office employees, and technical-support staff. The MBO used password-protected websites, toll-free telephone numbers, and personal meetings to take bets on a variety of sports. Bettors received a line of credit through their accounts, and bettors could pay gambling debts on losing bets using cash, check, or wire transfer. The MBO paid winning bets in cash. At its peak, the MBO had over one thousand bettors and generated millions of dollars of betting activity a year.

Count One charges all defendants, except Joanna Mastronardo, with participation in a racketeering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) and (d) of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Count Two charges all defendants, except Joanna Mastronardo, with conducting, financing, managing, supervising, directing, and owning all or part of an illegal gambling business in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1955.

The remaining counts charge defendants with crimes related to particular facets of the MBO’s operation. Counts Three through Six charge various defendants with laundering the proceeds of the MBO in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) by using a check-cashing business in Philadelphia, [3] wire transfers to foreign bank accounts, [4] the personal bank accounts of other individuals, [5] and a travel agency located in Pompano Beach, Florida.[6] Counts Seven through Fourteen charge Joseph V. Mastronardo, Jr. with engaging in the operation of an illegal gambling business in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1955 and 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5514 by aiding and abetting eight trips to New Jersey for the purpose of settling gambling debts. Counts Fifteen through Twenty-Two charge Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr., John Mastronardo, and Eric Woehlcke with mail and wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1084(a) for various phone calls to technical-support staff asking that betting accounts be adjusted, updated, or checked. Count Twenty-Three charges that Joseph Vito Mastronardo, Jr., Joseph F. Mastronardo, and Joanna Mastronardo knowingly structured bank deposits in values of less than $10, 000 to avoid statutory transaction-reporting requirements in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a)(1) and (d)(2).

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Relevant evidence is admissible unless prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, federal statute, the Federal Rules of Evidence, or other rules prescribed by the Supreme Court. Fed.R.Evid. 402. Evidence is relevant if “it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence” and “the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. “All that is needed is some showing of proper relevance, ” so the burden is not onerous. United States v. Sampson, 980 F.2d 883, 888 (3d Cir. 1992).

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)(1) bars the admission of relevant evidence of a prior crime or bad act “to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” Evidence of prior crimes and bad acts are divided into two categories: (1) those “extrinsic” to the charged offense, and (2) those “intrinsic” to the charged offense. United States v. Green, 617 F.3d 233, 245 (3d Cir. 2010).

Extrinsic evidence of prior crimes and bad acts must be analyzed under Rule 404(b)(2), Green, 617 F.3d at 245, which allows such evidence for a non-character related purpose, “such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(2). Rule 404(b) is a rule of inclusion rather than exclusion. United States v. Givan, 320 F.3d 452, 460 (3d Cir. 2003). Evidence is admissible under Rule 404(b)(2) if it satisfies a four-part test: (1) the evidence has proper purpose; (2) the evidence is relevant; (3) the probative value outweighs the danger of unfair prejudice; and (4) the court charges the jury to consider the evidence only for the limited purposes for which it is admitted. Id. (citing Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 691–92 (1988)).

Only two categories of evidence are intrinsic: (1) evidence directly proving the charged offense and (2) evidence of uncharged acts performed contemporaneously with the charged crimes that facilitate the commission of the charged crimes. Id. at 248–49. Intrinsic evidence must be relevant and admissible under Rule 403. Id. at 247. A decision on the admissibility of intrinsic evidence of prior crimes and bad acts does not require an analysis under Rule 404(b). Green, 617 F.3d at 245. Unlike evidence admitted under Rule 404(b), intrinsic evidence does not require that a district court give the jury a limiting instruction upon defendant’s request or that the prosecutor notify a defendant of the government’s intent to introduce evidence of prior bad acts in a criminal trial. Id. (citing United States v. Bowie, 232 F.3d 923, 927 (D.C. Cir. 2000)).

IV. DISCUSSION

The government seeks to introduce all the evidence identified in Government’s Motion to Admit Evidence as, inter alia, intrinsic evidence of the crime charged in Count One — engaging in a racketeering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). Section 1962(d) states that it “shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any ...


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