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United States v. McCloskey

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 15, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DAVID McCLOSKEY. Civil No. 16-987

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Joy Flowers Conti, Chief United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Defendant David McCloskey (“McCloskey”) filed a motion, through counsel, to vacate his conviction and/or sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (ECF No. 149), with numerous exhibits and brief in support (ECF Nos. 150, 151). McCloskey alleges ineffective assistance by two of his former attorneys, Michael DeRiso (“DeRiso”) and James Robinson (“Robinson”).[1] The government filed a response in opposition to the motion and McCloskey filed a reply brief (ECF Nos. 153, 155). The motion is ripe for disposition, except for one matter on which the court must hold an evidentiary hearing.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         On July 14, 2009, a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment charging McCloskey with Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349. (ECF No. 1.) On June 8, 2010, defendant pleaded guilty to the offense. (ECF Nos. 28.) There was no plea agreement. During the plea hearing, McCloskey agreed with only part of the government's factual basis for the conspiracy charge. McCloskey admitted that he knew Kenneth Cowden (“Cowden”) was not a licensed appraiser, but did not concede that he hired Cowden to perform inflated appraisals. McCloskey acknowledged that the factual statements he agreed with “satisf[y] the elements of wire fraud.” (Plea Hr'g Tr. at 17-20, ECF No. 78.) The court questioned McCloskey thoroughly to confirm that McCloskey knew that he could be sentenced to the statutory maximum of 20 years in prison and would be bound by his guilty plea even if his counsel made a mistake in advising him regarding the likely sentence. The court accepted defendant's entry of a guilty plea as knowing and voluntary. (Id. at 20-21.)

         The sentencing process was extensive and extended for over three years. The parties vigorously disputed numerous sentencing issues, most notably, the relevant conduct and amount of loss the government sought to attribute to McCloskey.[2] The court held an evidentiary hearing on March 19 and 20, 2012, to determine the correct application of the sentencing guidelines in this case.

         On May 22, 2012, attorney DeRiso filed a motion on behalf of McCloskey to withdraw his guilty plea. (ECF No. 83.) In support of the motion to withdraw his guilty plea, McCloskey executed an affidavit in which he made the following sworn representations to the court: “That I have read the entirely [sic] of this motion and assert that each factual matter stated therein is true and correct to the best of my knowledge, information and belief, ” and “I assert that I am innocent of the offense charged in the Indictment.” (ECF No. 83-1 ¶¶ 2, 5.) McCloskey acknowledged that his affidavit was made subject to the criminal penalties for perjury. (Id.) The affidavit was signed by McCloskey and witnessed by DeRiso. On June 5, 2012, the government opposed the motion to withdraw the guilty plea, and noted that it “now objects to any reduction based on acceptance of responsibility and intends to assert that the two-level obstruction of justice enhancement applies.” (ECF No. 84 at 10 n.7.)

         The hearing on the motion to withdraw the guilty plea was postponed several times. In August 2012, DeRiso filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and McCloskey filed a parallel motion to remove DeRiso as his attorney. (ECF Nos. 95, 96). On September 4, 2012, the court held a hearing. (ECF No. 144.) DeRiso informed the court that the impasse with McCloskey arose over how to handle the motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Id. at 5). Upon questioning from the court, DeRiso explained that the dispute was not over whether the motion should have been filed, that he was competent to handle it and had no problem doing so, and that the allegation was in good faith and founded. The dispute instead involved strategy - who should be called as witnesses, what evidence should be produced, and how the hearing should proceed. (Id. at 5-6.) McCloskey also presented his criticisms and concerns regarding DeRiso's representation to the court. (Id. at 6-10.) Because McCloskey's accusations of ineffective assistance of counsel created a conflict of interest, the court granted the motions and terminated DeRiso's representation. On September 14, 2012, Robinson was appointed as McCloskey's attorney.

         On January 2, 2013, the court held a hearing on the motion to withdraw the guilty plea. When Robinson called DeRiso to testify as a witness, the government sought to clarify the record regarding McCloskey's waiver of the attorney-client privilege and the government's intent to pursue perjury charges. (ECF No. 150-8 at 7-17.) After conferring with attorney Robinson, defendant abandoned the motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (Id. at 17.)

         On June 6, 2013, attorney Martin Dietz (“Dietz”) was appointed as McCloskey's counsel and Robinson withdrew his appearance. On November 26, 2013, the court found that the statements McCloskey made in the affidavit in support of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea directly contradicted his knowing and voluntary admission in open court, under oath, that he committed the offense charged in the indictment. (ECF No. 119 ¶ 18.) Based on the filing of the motion to withdraw guilty plea and the attached affidavit, the court imposed a two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1 and denied the two-level decrease for acceptance of responsibility pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a) in determining the advisory guideline range. (ECF No. 119 at ¶¶ 70-83.)

         The guidelines considered by the court in imposing the sentence for McCloskey were based on offense level 37 and criminal history category I, for an advisory range of 210-262 months (but capped at the statutory maximum of 240 months). Without the adjustments resulting from the motion to withdraw the plea and affidavit, McCloskey's offense level would have been 33 and criminal history category I, for an advisory guideline range of 135-168 months. The court granted a downward variance and sentenced McCloskey to a term of imprisonment of 120 months.

         McCloskey pursued a direct appeal. His conviction and sentence were affirmed in a nonprecedential opinion filed on April 8, 2015. (ECF No. 146-2.) In relevant part, the court of appeals stated: (1) “The District Court questioned McCloskey thoroughly regarding his potential sentence noting that he could be sentenced to the statutory maximum for his offense, which was 20 years in prison, ” id. at 3; (2) the district court explicitly confirmed that McCloskey would be bound by his guilty plea and have no right to withdraw it, even if his counsel made a mistake in advising him regarding the likely sentence, id.; (3) the district court properly considered pre-2004 actions as “relevant conduct, ” id. at 5; (4) McCloskey does not deny that the sworn statements in his affidavit (in support of the motion to withdraw his guilty plea) were false and his assertions of “confusion” and “fear” fail, id. at 8; (5) a defendant who perjures himself in an attempt to withdraw his guilty plea obstructs justice and thus, the district court did not err in applying this enhancement, id.; and (6) McCoskey was commended for abandoning his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, id. at 9. The court of appeals held that the district court properly applied an enhancement for obstruction of justice and properly denied credit for acceptance of responsibility. Id.

         McCloskey filed this § 2255 motion on June 30, 2016. It is timely pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(1), because it was filed within one year of July 7, 2015, the date McCloskey's conviction became final (90 days after the court of appeals' decision, when his right to file a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court expired).

         III. Legal Analysis

         McCloskey articulated numerous alleged deficiencies of counsel. McCloskey contends that DeRiso (1) failed to investigate the case and obtain discovery; (2) failed to research and advise him regarding conspiracy; (3) failed to safeguard him from the government's theory of loss; (4) failed to advise him about the ramifications of an “open” plea; (5) failed to advise him of sentencing enhancements; (6) failed to explain the concept of “relevant conduct”; (7) failed to preserve objections to the presentence investigation report (“PSI”); (8) failed to rebut the government's theory of loss; (9) failed “to understand explaining the implications of filing a Motion to Withdraw Plea agreement and advising Petitioner of potential impact on his sentence”; (10) failed “in advising Petitioner to sign a sworn affidavit filed with the Court professing innocence after statements had been made to the FBI and after a guilty plea had been entered before the Court”; and (11) failed “to file a proper motion to withdraw a guilty plea with legally sufficient support, and attaching an affidavit wherein Petitioner essentially rebuts prior sworn testimony.” (ECF No. 151 at 7-8.)

         McCloskey contends that attorney Robinson: (1) failed to research the implications of pressing forward with the motion to withdraw his guilty plea; (2) failed to advise him of the impact if the motion to withdraw guilty ...


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