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United States v. Thomas

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 31, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
EDDIE THOMAS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RUFE, J.

         Defendant Eddie Thomas pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344, two counts of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and twelve counts of aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A.[1] The charges relate to Defendant's participation in a scheme to obtain money from multiple banks by executing fraudulent transactions against the bank accounts of others. The Court sentenced Defendant within the Sentencing Guidelines to 75 months of imprisonment[2] and ordered him to pay $305, 830 in restitution. Defendant did not appeal his conviction or sentence. Defendant now seeks relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, asserting that his counsel, Joshua M. Briskin, was ineffective. However, Defendant's ineffectiveness claims are without merit, and his § 2255 motions will be denied without a hearing.

         I. Standard of Review

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), a prisoner serving a sentence in federal custody may petition the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside, or correct the sentence by asserting that “the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack.”[3] Relief under AEDPA is extraordinary and “generally available only to protect against a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice or an omission inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure.”[4] Claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel are properly raised in a § 2255 motion.[5]

         II. Discussion

         The Sixth Amendment guarantees to each criminal defendant the effective assistance of counsel. Whether counsel was ineffective is evaluated under the familiar guidelines of Strickland v. Washington.[6] To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim:

First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.[7]

         Furthermore, “[a] defendant may withdraw a guilty plea based on ineffective counsel only if (1) the defendant shows that his attorney's advice was under all the circumstances unreasonable under prevailing professional norms, [and that (2)] he suffered sufficient prejudice from his counsel's errors.”[8]

         Defendant's ineffectiveness claims against Mr. Briskin include allegations that he failed to secure all the Government's evidence, failed to “challenge the Government's aggravated identity theft evidence, ” failed to “recognize the instant case is a continuation” of Defendant's previous criminal case, failed to challenge proposed sentencing enhancements, and failed to file an appeal.[9] Mr. Briskin was appointed to represent Defendant on March 27, 2015, but that order was vacated on May 1, 2015. Thus, Mr. Briskin was listed as Defendant's counsel for approximately one month. On June 16, 2016, more than one year after Mr. Briskin's representation ended, the Government filed a Superseding Indictment against Defendant, to which he eventually pleaded guilty.

         Defendant's ineffectiveness claims against Mr. Briskin for failing to secure all the Government's evidence and for failing to challenge the Government's aggravated identity theft evidence are meritless, since the evidence upon which Defendant's guilty plea and sentence rely are based on the Superseding Indictment filed more than a year after Mr. Briskin's representation concluded. Defendant also has not identified what type of evidence he contends was not obtained by counsel, nor has he explained how this allegedly unsecured evidence undermined confidence in his guilty plea and sentencing. In addition, Defendant's ineffectiveness claims against Mr. Briskin for failing to challenge the sentencing enhancements and failing to file an appeal have no merit, as Mr. Briskin did not represent Defendant at the time of sentencing or immediately thereafter. Instead, Mr. Briskin's representation ended more than twenty-one months before Defendant was sentenced. Last, Defendant's ineffectiveness claim alleging that Mr. Briskin failed to recognize that the instant matter was a continuation of his previous criminal case is meritless. In the previous criminal case, Defendant was charged with and pleaded guilty to bank fraud, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting in connection with his participation in a scheme to defraud PNC Bank and M&T Bank with his co-conspirator, L.T., in February of 2012.[10] The illegal conduct in this case, however, stems from a separate scheme to defraud dating back to 2009 and 2010, and involves other banks and different co-conspirators. The ineffectiveness claims against Mr. Briskin, therefore, do not provide a basis for § 2255 relief.

         Even if the Court were to assume that Defendant intended to raise his ineffectiveness claims against his later attorney, his claims must be dismissed. After Mr. Briskin's representation ended, Trevan Borum was appointed and represented Defendant through his guilty plea and sentencing.

         At the change-of-plea hearing, the Court questioned whether Defendant had any cause for dissatisfaction with Mr. Borum:

The Court: Have you reviewed with your attorney the charges that are filed against you ...

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