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United States v. Woewiyu

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 21, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JUCONTEE THOMAS WOEWIYU

          MEMORANDUM

          ANITA B. BRODY, J.

         The Government charges Defendant Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu with two counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1425; four counts of fraud in immigration documents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a); three counts of false statements in relation to naturalization, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1015(a); and seven counts of perjury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1621. These charges stem from Woewiyu's alleged participation in a military organization committed to the violent overthrow of the Liberian government, and the false information that Woewiyu subsequently provided about his involvement in this organization in his application for United States citizenship.

         On December 20, 2017, Woewiyu filed a motion to dismiss the indictment without prejudice for a violation of the Speedy Trial Act. On January 31, 2018, the Court denied Woewiyu's motion to dismiss. Woewiyu's trial is scheduled for June 11, 2018. The following is an explanation of the Court's decision to deny Woewiyu's motion to dismiss the indictment without prejudice for a violation of the Speedy Trial Act.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Since 1972, Woewiyu has had Legal Permanent Resident status in the United States. On or about January 23, 2006, Woewiyu applied for United States citizenship by submitting an Immigration and Naturalization ("INS") Form N-400. On January 30, 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Woewiyu for false answers that he provided on his Form N-400 and during his interview with an Immigration Services Officer.

         Specifically, the indictment charges that Woewiyu, along with Charles Taylor and others, founded the National Patriotic Front of Liberia ("NPFL"), a military organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the Liberian government that was led by Samuel Doe. Indictment ¶ 5, ECF No. 1. Woewiyu served as both the NPFL spokesman and the Minister of Defense. Indictment ¶ 7.

         In September of 1990, Samuel Doe was captured, tortured, and executed. Indictment ¶ 8. The indictment further charges that after Doe's death, the NPFL continued "with a brutal campaign for control of the country, " fighting against other factions. Indictment ¶ 9. "During defendant Woewiyu's tenure as NPFL Minister of Defense, the NPFL conducted a particularly heinous and brutal military campaign. It was characterized by the torture of perceived adversaries, the execution of civilians, the killing of... peacekeepers, the forced sexual slavery and rape of girls and women, the conscription of child soldiers, and the murder of humanitarian aid workers." Indictment ¶ 11.

         The indictment further charges that when Woewiyu applied for U.S. citizenship in January of 2006, he made several misrepresentations on his Form N-400 and during his interview with an Immigration Services Officer, despite certifying under penalty of perjury that his answers were correct. Indictment ¶ 15. For instance, Question 10 asked "Have you EVER advocated (either directly or indirectly) the overthrow of any government by force or violence?" Indictment ¶ l7.b. Woewiyu responded no, even though he had advocated the overthrow of the Liberian government by force or violence when it was led by Samuel Doe. Indictment ¶ l7.b. Additionally, Question 11 asked "Have you EVER persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion?" Indictment ¶ l7.c. Woewiyu responded no, even though, as a member of the NPFL, he had "persecuted others because of their political opinions, and membership in a particular social group." Indictment ¶ l7.c.

         B. Procedural Background.

         On May 12, 2014, the indictment against Woewiyu was unsealed. On May 13, 2014, Woewiyu made his initial appearance before a magistrate judge. On May 16, 2014, an arraignment and detention hearing was held. During the hearing, Woewiyu pleaded not guilty to all counts in the indictment and the magistrate judge ordered pretrial detention. On May 21, 2014, the Court scheduled Woewiyu's trial for July 7, 2014.

         On June 12, 2014, the Government filed a motion to have the case declared complex and for a continuance of the trial date. On that same date, the Court granted the Government's motion and ordered an open-ended "ends of justice" continuance pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(A) ("Open Ended "Ends of Justice" Continuance").[1] The Court granted the continuance on the basis of finding that the case was "so unusual and so complex due to the nature of the prosecution and the state of the evidence that it is unreasonable to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings or for the trial itself within the time limits established by the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3161 et. seq." Speedy Trial Act Order, ECF No. 13 ¶ 1. The Court determined the case was so unusual and complex because of: (1) novel issues in the case, involving conduct and events that occurred decades ago on another continent during a civil war, which would require review of complicated documentary evidence such as ancient documents and documentary evidence from foreign sources; (2) the Government's ongoing efforts to obtain testimony and recordings from foreign sources, including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom; and (3) the "voluminous and complicated" discovery that Defendant and his counsel would need time to review. Speedy Trial Act Order ¶ 3. As a result, the Court concluded that the ends of justice served by granting the continuance outweighed the best interests of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. Speedy Trial Act Order 13 ¶ 5.

         On September 17, 2014, Woewiyu filed a motion for pretrial release. On October 21, 2014, the Court held a hearing regarding Woewiyu's motion for pretrial release. During the hearing, defense counsel indicated that obtaining evidence in the case would "require requests that are going to take a long time to fill." Mot. Pretrial Release Hr'g Tr. 78:4-7 [hereinafter Release Hr'g Tr.]. Defense counsel argued that one factor to consider in determining whether to grant pretrial release for Woewiyu was that "[t]his case is going to take a long time to get to trial." Release Hr'g Tr. 109:24-25. Defense counsel's statement prompted the Court to ask the Government how soon it would be ready for trial. Release Hr'g Tr. 110:2-4. The Government answered, "I would hope to try it, Your Honor, early in 2015." Release Hr'g Tr. 110:5-6. Defense counsel responded, "I don't see that as remotely possible, Your Honor." Release Hr'g Tr. 110:8-9. Defense counsel explained: "I know I am going to have requests that are going to take time because I suspect I'm going to be requesting classification information and - classified information and that's - that's going to take some period of time." Release Hr'g Tr. 110:20-24. Relying on the Government's motion to have the case declared complex and for a continuance of the trial date, and the Court's decision to grant the Government's motion to continue the trial, defense counsel argued that the case could not be tried for a long time because "there's still going to be lots of discovery."[2] Release Hr'g Tr. 111:14-21.

         On October 22, 2014, the Court granted Woewiyu's motion for pretrial release.[3] ECF No. 30. No. new trial date was set as a result of the pretrial release hearing. Rather, defense counsel's representation at the hearing that he suspected he was going to request classified information triggered the Government's obligations under the Classified Information Procedures Act ("CIPA"). Linwood C. Wright Aff. ¶ 2, ECF No. 76 [hereinafter Wright Aff.].

         Accordingly, on December 11, 2014, Linwood C. Wright, the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to prosecute Woewiyu's case, "requested that the Department of Justice's National Security Division (NSD) ask another government entity to conduct a prudential search request, in order to determine whether the entity possessed classified documents relating to [Woewiyu]." Wright Aff. ¶ 2. On January 15, 2015, following the NSD's request, the "entity retrieved documents that were responsive to the prudential search request." Wright Aff. ¶ 2.

         In order to review the classified documents, Wright needed to obtain additional security clearance. On February 24, 2015, Wright was granted an additional clearance. Wright Aff. ¶ 3. Wright then coordinated with the government entity to review the classified documents. Wright Aff. ¶ 4. "[Wright] was granted permission to review those documents on convenient dates specified by the government entity, at the entity's facility." Wright Aff. ¶ 4. Wright reviewed documents on eight days during the months of July through September 2015. As a result of his review, Wright made "numerous classified notes." Wright Aff. ¶ 4.

         On December 10, 2015, the government entity that possessed the classified documents, reviewed Wright's classified notes, redacted portions of them, and then transmitted them to NSD. Wright Aff. ¶ 5. On May 17, 2016, NSD transmitted Wright's classified notes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") in Philadelphia and they were stored in the FBI's Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. Wright Aff. ¶ 5.

         During his request and review of classified documents, Wright did not file any motions informing the Court of his investigation into classified documents related to Woewiyu. Notwithstanding his failure to file any motions, however, Wright kept the Court informed of the classified status of the case and his ongoing efforts to obtain and review documents.

         Between December 12, 2014 and June 10, 2016, Wright engaged in multiple phone conversations with Criminal Deputy Clerk James Scheidt.[4] During these conversations, Wright informed Scheidt of his ongoing investigation into classified documents related to Woewiyu, and the strong likelihood that once he completed his review the Court would need to conduct its own review of these classified documents. Scheidt relayed the content of these conversations to the Court, keeping the Court apprised of the classified nature of the case and the complex and complicated discovery process.

         On June 22, 2016, the Government filed both an Unopposed Motion to Designate a Classified Information Security Officer and a Motion for a Pretrial Conference Pursuant to the Classified Information Procedures Act.[5] ECF Nos. 44, 45. Following the Government's filing of formal CIPA motions, the Court began the arduous task of reviewing classified information, which first required several staff members to obtain security clearance and then required review of all materials in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.

         On June 28, 2016, the Court granted the Government's Unopposed Motion to Designate a Classified Information Security Officer and designated a classified information security officer. ECF No. 48. On March 2, 2017, the Court granted the Government's Motion for a Pretrial Conference Pursuant to the Classified Information Procedures Act. ECF No. 49.

         On April 4, 2017, Woewiyu filed a Motion in Opposition to Bifurcated CIPA § 2 Conference that the Court denied on April 10, 2017. ECF Nos. 51, 52.

         From April 12, 2017 through July 17, 2017, the parties filed three CIPA § 4 motions. On April 12, 2017, Woewiyu filed a Motion to Compel Discovery of CIPA § 4 Material. ECF No. 53. On June 30, 2017, the Government filed an ex parte motion under CIPA § 4. See ECF No. 72. On July 17, ...


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