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United States v. Lignelli

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 3, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JAMES LIGNELLI, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Terrence F. McVerry, United States District Court Judge.

Pending before the Court is the MOTION FOR RELEASE PENDING APPEAL PURSUANT TO 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b) (ECF No. 171), filed by Defendant James Lignelli (“Lignelli”). The government filed a response in opposition to the motion (ECF No. 173) and Lignelli filed a reply (ECF No. 174). The motion is ripe for disposition.

Factual and Procedural Background

The facts and procedural history are well-known to the parties and will not be recited in full herein. Briefly, Lignelli was a professional real estate appraiser. On October 25, 2011, a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment which charged Lignelli with: Count 1, conspiracy to commit bank fraud from February-April 2005, along with Michael Pope, Tiffany Sprouts and others, by having prepared fraudulent, inflated real estate property appraisals for the “Sugar Camp Property, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349; Counts 2 and 3, bank fraud on Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, respectively, resulting from the fraudulent, inflated appraisals for the “Sugar Camp Property, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344(1) and (2); Count 4, bank fraud on S&T Bank from April-August 2005, along with Michael Staaf and others, by having prepared a fraudulent, inflated real estate property appraisal for the “Perry Highway Property, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344(1) and (2); and Count 5, Conspiracy to commit bank fraud from July 2008-December 2009, along with Michael Staaf and others, by having prepared a fraudulent real estate property appraisal for the “Brodhead Road Property, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349. During a three-week jury trial, the prosecution presented the actual appraisal documents prepared by Lignelli, testimony from alleged co-conspirators (including Pope), testimony by unrelated fact witnesses who were familiar with the actual condition of the properties, and numerous real estate property appraisal experts. On June 11, 2014 the jury found Lignelli not guilty as to Counts 1 and 5 (the conspiracy counts of the indictment), and returned a verdict of guilty as to Counts 2, 3 and 4 (the bank fraud counts of the indictment). Lignelli remained on bond pending sentencing.

On June 25, 2014, Lignelli filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33 and a motion for acquittal (ECF Nos. 114, 115). On July 25, 2014, the Court issued a thorough Memorandum Order which denied the motions, for the reasons set forth therein. On January 20, 2015, Lignelli sought reconsideration of the July 25, 2014 Order, which the Court denied in a written opinion. The parties vigorously disputed the Sentencing Guidelines calculation in the Presentence Investigation Report. The Court issued Tentative Findings on February 24, 2015. After numerous extensions of time, Lignelli was sentenced on April 29, 2015 to a term of imprisonment of 42 months at each of Counts 2, 3 and 4, to be served concurrently. The Court permitted Lignelli to “self-report” on June 26, 2015 unless otherwise instructed by the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”). The Court has been informed that Lignelli has been designated by the BOP to report to FCI-Morgantown on June 16, 2015. Lignelli has filed a timely Notice of Appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Legal Analysis

The relevant statutory authority is 18 U.S.C. § 3143(b) (emphasis added):

(b) Release or detention pending appeal by the defendant.--(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the judicial officer shall order that a person who has been found guilty of an offense and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and who has filed an appeal or a petition for a writ of certiorari, be detained, unless the judicial officer finds--
(A) by clear and convincing evidence that the person is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community if released under section 3142(b) or (c) of this title; and
(B) that the appeal is not for the purpose of delay and raises a substantial question of law or fact likely to result in--
(i) reversal,
(ii) an order for a new trial,
(iii) a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment, or
(iv) a reduced sentence to a term of imprisonment less than the total of the time already served plus the expected ...

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