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United States v. Repak

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 7, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RONALD W. REPAK, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This case arises from allegations that Defendant engaged in extortion and bribery while serving as the executive director of the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority ("JRA"). On January 14, 2014, the Government filed an Indictment (ECF No. 1) against Defendant Ronald W. Repak, charging him with three counts of Extortion Under Color of Official Right and three counts of Federal Program Bribery. Trial in this matter began on July 6, 2015. Presently before the Court are two motions in limine (ECF Nos. 68 and 79) filed by the Defendant.[1] The Government has filed a response (ECF No. 96) to the motions. Additionally before the Court is the Government's request to introduce Rule 404(b) evidence. (ECF No. 94). The issues have been fully briefed, and the motions are ripe for disposition. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's motions in limine.

II. Applicable Law

Defendant's motions in limine raise evidentiary issues under Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, 403, 404(b), 602, and 804(b). The Court will first review the offenses contained in the Indictment and then will summarize the pertinent rules of evidence.

A. Elements of the Alleged Crimes

The Indictment charges Defendant with three counts of Extortion Under Color of Official Right in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) and three counts of Federal Program Bribery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B).

To prove that Defendant committed the crime of Extortion Under Color of Official Right, the Government must show: (1) that the Defendant took certain property from the entities identified in the Indictment as Entities A, B, and C, as described in Counts One, Three, and Five of the Indictment;[2](2) that the Defendant did so knowingly and willfully by extortion under color of official right; and (3) that as a result of the Defendant's actions, interstate commerce was obstructed, delayed, or affected.

To prove that Defendant committed the crime of Federal Program Bribery, the Government must show: (1) that at the time alleged in the Indictment, Defendant was an agent of the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority; (2) that the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority received federal benefits in excess of $10, 000 in a one-year period; (3) that Defendant solicited and accepted something of value from the Entities identified in the Indictment as Entities A, B, and C; (4) that the Defendant acted corruptly with the intent to be influenced or rewarded in connection with the business and transactions of Entity A, Entity B, and Entity C; and (5) that the value of the business and transactions to which the payment related was at least $5, 000.

B. Applicable Rules of Evidence

Under Rule 402 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, relevant evidence is admissible unless the Constitution, a federal statute, the Federal Rules of Evidence, or rules prescribed by the Supreme Court provide otherwise. Fed.R.Evid. 402. Rule 401 provides that evidence is relevant if "(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401. Although evidence must be relevant to be admissible, Rule 401 does not set a high standard for admissibility. Hurley v. Atl. City Police Dep't, 174 F.3d 95, 109-10 (3d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). The Third Circuit has explained:

Relevancy is not an inherent characteristic of any item of evidence but exists only as a relation between an item of evidence and a matter properly provable in the case. Because the rule makes evidence relevant if it has any tendency to prove a consequential fact, it follows that evidence is irrelevant only when it has no tendency to prove the fact.

Blancha v. Raymark Indus., 972 F.2d 507, 514 (3d Cir. 1992) (emphasis in original) (citations and quotations omitted).

Under Rule 403, even relevant evidence is inadmissible "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403. Rule 403 mandates a balancing test, "requiring sensitivity on the part of the trial court to the subtleties of the particular situation." United States v. Vosburgh, 602 F.3d 512, 537 (3d Cir. 2010). Relevant here, the advisory notes to Rule 403 state that "unfair prejudice" means an "undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one." Fed.R.Evid. 403 advisory committee note; see Dollar v. Long Mfg., N.C., Inc., 561 F.2d 613, 618 (5th Cir. 1977) ("Of course, unfair prejudice' as used in Rule 403 is not to be equated with testimony simply adverse to the opposing party. Virtually all evidence is prejudicial or it isn't material. The prejudice must be unfair.'").

Additionally, in accordance with Rule 602, "a witness may testify to a matter only if evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter." Fed.R.Evid. 602. "Evidence to prove personal knowledge may consist of the witness's own testimony." Id. Similar to the relevancy requirement of Rule 401, the personal knowledge requirement of Rule 602 creates a low threshold for admissibility. United States v. Gerard, 507 Fed.App'x 218, 222 (3d Cir. 2012). A judge should admit witness testimony "if the jury could reasonably find that the witness perceived the event." Id. (citing United States v. Hickey, 917 F.2d 901, 904 (6th Cir. 1990)).

Finally, while all relevant is admissible, Rule 404(b) bars the admission of evidence of a crime or bad acts "to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character." ...


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