384 F.3d 794 (9th Cir. 2004), 02-10287, United States v. Boulware

Docket Nº:02-10287, 02-10338.
Citation:384 F.3d 794
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Michael H. BOULWARE, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Michael H. Boulware, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:September 14, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 794

384 F.3d 794 (9th Cir. 2004)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Michael H. BOULWARE, Defendant-Appellant.

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Michael H. Boulware, Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 02-10287, 02-10338.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 14, 2004

Argued and Submitted Dec. 1, 2003.

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Robert J. Waters, Santa Monica, CA, Dennis E.W. O'Connor, Honolulu, HI, for the defendant-appellant and cross-appellee.

Karen M. Quesnel, Tax Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for the plaintiff-appellee and cross-appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii; Edward Rafeedie, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CR 99-0239 ER.

Before TASHIMA, THOMAS, and SILVERMAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Opinion by Judge TASHIMA; Dissent by Judge SILVERMAN.

TASHIMA, Circuit Judge.

Michael H. Boulware appeals from his conviction, after trial by jury, on five counts of filing false tax returns, four counts of tax evasion, and one count of conspiracy to make false statements to a federally-insured financial institution. He contends that all of his convictions must be reversed because the government failed to meet its burden of proof on the tax counts, constructively amended the indictment during trial, and engaged in prosecutorial misconduct. He also contends that the district court prejudicially erred in excluding key evidence and giving inadequate and misleading jury instructions. Finally, he contends that his sentence must be vacated, because the district court failed to resolve factual disputes regarding the amount of the tax loss. In its cross-appeal, the government contends that the district court erred by refusing to enhance Boulware's sentence for obstruction of justice.

Although most of the errors alleged by Boulware do not warrant reversal of his convictions, one of them does. The district court abused its discretion by excluding evidence of a state-court judgment that directly supported Boulware's defense to the tax charges and that directly contradicted the government's theory of the case--that Boulware had stolen money from his closely-held corporation and gifted it to his girlfriend. As the error went to the heart of Boulware's defense and was

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not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, Boulware is entitled to a new trial on the nine tax counts.

I

After a six-year investigation by the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), Boulware was indicted on four counts of filing false tax returns for the 1989-1992 tax years, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1), one count of conspiring to make a false statement to a federally-insured financial institution, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and four counts of making such false statements, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1014. A tenth count sought forfeiture of funds associated with the false statements. A superseding indictment added five new counts of filing false tax returns, for the 1993-1997 tax years. and four counts of tax evasion, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7201, for the 1994-1997 tax years. Finally, a second superseding indictment ("the indictment"), amended the factual allegations of the conspiracy count.

After a six-day trial and two-and-a-half days of deliberations, the jury convicted Boulware on November 29, 2001, of all nine tax counts. 1 The jury also convicted him of conspiring to make false statements to a federally-insured financial institution, but acquitted him of the substantive false statements counts. The district court sentenced Boulware to a 36-month term of imprisonment on each of the false tax return counts, 51 months on each of the tax evasion counts, and 51 months on the conspiracy count, all terms to run concurrently. 2

II

Boulware started M & S Vending in 1979, while working as a telephone repairman. The company placed video games in bars and restaurants, and it quickly expanded into other lines of business, such as cigarette sales. In about 1985, the company was renamed Hawaiian Isles Enterprises ("HIE"); Boulware owned all of the shares. HIE branched out into coffee roasting and sales, and formed a subsidiary named Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee Company. Boulware later acquired a bottled water company and transferred its stock to HIE. By 1989, HIE was reporting gross receipts of over $55 million, and by 1992 sales had topped $85 million.

At trial, the government sought to prove that Boulware had systematically diverted funds from HIE in order to support a lavish lifestyle. In particular, that he gave millions of dollars of HIE money to his girlfriend, Jin Sook Lee, and millions of dollars to his wife, Mal Sun Boulware, without reporting any of this money on his personal income tax returns. According to the government, he siphoned off this money primarily by writing checks to employees and friends and having them return the cash to him, by diverting payments by HIE customers, by submitting fraudulent invoices to HIE, and by laundering HIE money through companies in the Kingdom of Tonga and Hong Kong.

With regard to the false statements counts, the government attempted to prove that Boulware and a business associate named Lorin Kushiyama received financing from General Electric Credit Company ("GECC") based on the submission of false invoices. In particular, the government

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tried to prove that the financing was purportedly to allow Kushiyama's company to purchase video game machines that it would then lease or sell to HIE. According to the government, HIE already owned the machines and Kushiyama gave the loan proceeds to Boulware.

The defense case was that Boulware did not underreport income in any of the relevant tax years, because HIE maintained beneficial ownership of all of the funds in question. Even if he did underreport his income, he at all times acted in good-faith reliance on the advice of counsel.

According to Boulware, he intended to use most of the money at issue in this case to buy out his wife's marital interest in HIE and the money was therefore not, or at least arguably not, taxable to him. He asked his wife for a divorce in 1987, and she threatened to force him to liquidate HIE unless he agreed to give her $5 million and a $1 million house. Boulware and his wife realized that it would take time for HIE to buy out her interest. When he told Jin Sook Lee about the agreement, she asked to hold the money as it was accumulating, because she wanted to make sure he saved it for the divorce. His lawyer advised him that (1) his wife had a right to half of the company as her marital share of HIE, and (2) if Lee held the funds in trust for HIE, the money would not be taxable to Boulware.

Boulware testified that by 1994 he had collected enough HIE money to redeem his wife's share of the company and finalize their divorce. Lee, however, refused to return the money. For this reason, Boulware had to scramble to obtain other funds to buy out his wife's marital interest. For example, he received a $1.7 million loan from Harold Okimoto. Finally in 1997, a Hawaii state-court jury found that the money Lee was holding belonged to HIE. The state court ordered Lee to return the money to HIE.

The defense also tried to show that, despite Boulware's success as an entrepreneur, he was a relatively unsophisticated person who neither understood nor paid attention to accounting issues. A certain disregard of corporate formalities was also due to the fact that he owned and ran the company. In addition, the nature of his business (e.g., purchasing coffee beans in cash from growers on Kona) required that he receive corporate advances to make deals. He always informed his comptroller Merwyn Manago of these transactions, and they were (or Boulware was under the impression that they were) reported on HIE's books and tax returns.

With regard to the GECC loans, the defense made a case that the transactions were not fraudulent. What the government portrayed as false invoices were really legitimate appraisals of the video game machines, which were to serve as collateral for a loan from GECC to HIE.

III

A. Exclusion of the State-Court Judgment

Boulware argues that the district court improperly excluded evidence of a Hawaii civil judgment, which determined that HIE owned the money that Boulware had given to Jin Sook Lee between 1987 and 1994. As the state court found that Boulware had not gifted the funds to Lee and that the funds belonged to HIE, he contends that he had no federal tax liability for those funds. He argues that the improper exclusion of this evidence violated his due process right to present evidence in his defense.

1. Standard of Review

We generally review a district court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of

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discretion. United States v. Sua, 307 F.3d 1150, 1152 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1221, 123 S.Ct. 1327, 154 L.Ed.2d 1078 (2003). Under this standard, reversal is appropriate only where the trial court made an error of law or a clearly erroneous finding of fact, or where the reviewing court has " 'a definite and firm conviction that the district court committed a clear error of judgment.' " United States v. Finley, 301 F.3d 1000, 1007 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Benavidez-Benavidez, 217 F.3d 720, 723 (9th Cir. 2000)). We review de novo the district court's interpretations of the Federal Rules of Evidence. United States v. Angwin, 271 F.3d 786, 798 (9th Cir. 2001).

2. Factual Background

On October 7, 1994, over a year after Boulware became aware that the IRS was investigating him, but four-and-a-half...

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