Aron v. United States

Decision Date26 September 1967
Docket NumberNo. 18613.,18613.
PartiesLeonard ARON, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Samuel H. Liberman, II, St. Louis, Mo., for appellant, Kramer, Chused & Kramer, St. Louis, Mo., were with him on the brief.

John A. Newton, Asst. U. S. Atty., St. Louis, Mo., for appellee, Richard D. Fitz-Gibbon, Jr., U. S. Atty., St. Louis, Mo., was with him on the brief.

Before MEHAFFY and GIBSON, Circuit Judges, and STEPHENSON, District Judge.

FLOYD R. GIBSON, Circuit Judge.

The appellant, Leonard Aron, was found guilty by a jury on a two-count indictment for violations of Section 641, Title 18 U.S.C.1 The Court entered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and sentenced the appellant to concurrent terms of ten years under each count. A timely appeal was filed.

Appellant was the manager of a stamp and coin shop owned by his father and operated under the name of Aaron's Stamp and Coin Shop in Maplewood, Missouri.

The Longview Branch of the Kansas City, Missouri, Post Office was burglarized on about June 26, 1966 and a total of over $14,000.00 in value in postage stamps stolen along with some $700.00 in value of United States savings stamps.

On July 22, 1966 the appellant redeemed $282.90 worth of the savings stamps at the Maplewood Station Post Office in St. Louis County, Missouri, where he was known and normally conducted business. He had some additional stamps which he sought to redeem but the Post Office did not have enough money to redeem the balance of the stamps presented and suggested that he take them to the Maplewood Bank and Trust Company, which he did, and, there redeemed an additional $422.45 of the savings stamps. He sought to secure cash for these stamps but the bank insisted on depositing the proceeds to his checking account.

Unbeknownst to Aron, these stamps had been marked with a white crayola, which markings would not be visible or apparent under normal conditions but would be plainly visible when submitted to an ultra-violet light.

The Government evidence showed that on June 22, 1965 a Post Office inspector, Gianos, and his assistant, Welner, marked a large quantity of postage stamps with the zip code number of the Longview Branch of the Kansas City Post Office on the margin of each sheet and the figure "L" on the face of every other stamp. This was done on each fifth sheet in the stack, after starting with the second sheet, on 342 sheets of five cent George Washington gray stamps. A quantity of Magna Carta and Homemaker commemorative five cent stamps were marked in like manner. Also marked were fifteen sheets of savings stamps of ten, twenty-five and fifty cent denominations, or a total of 1500 savings stamps marked with a large "L" on each stamp.

On the next morning Gianos and Welner took these stamps to the Longview Station and turned them over to Superintendent Whitney, who counted the stamps and signed a receipt for them. Whitney checked the stamps with Bowersox, an assistant carrier station superintendent in the Longview Branch. One of Bowersox's duties was to maintain custody of the stamps in the station and give them to the various clerks when they were needed. Whitney died in May of 1966. Bowersox testified that he checked the stamps given to him by Whitney as to number and type and he signed a receipt for them. Bowersox kept the sheeted stamps in the envelopes in which they were received and he placed them on the bottom of different stacks of stamps he had in his inventory in four different places, all of which were under his exclusive control. These compartments in the Post Office safes had been assigned to him and had individual locks of their own that could only be opened by keys in the exclusive possession of Bowersox.

These stamps remained undistributed on the bottom of the stacks where placed for about a year in accordance with instructions given Bowersox. They were checked by auditors in his presence just before Bowersox went on vacation on May 27 or 28, 1966. Keys to these compartments were left in a sealed envelope by Bowersox. When he reported back to the office from his vacation on June 27, 1966 he found one of the doors of the Post Office had been forced and that the safes had been opened. The compartments in those safes containing the marked stamps had been opened and the contents removed but the keys to those compartments were found in the sealed envelope unopened on the floor of the safe.

There was approximately $20,000.00 in stamps in the Post Office at the time of the theft, with approximately $15,200.00 in value being taken, which included about $700.00 in savings stamps. The bulky items, such as stamp envelopes and post cards, were not taken in the burglary.

After appellant cashed the savings stamps at the Maplewood Post Office, the acting superintendent of that office called a Post Office inspector and had the booklets of redeemed savings stamps isolated and held for scrutiny by the proper postal authorities. The bank, which had cashed the other savings stamps offered by the appellant at about 6:00 p. m. on Friday, July 22, 1966, called the Maplewood Post Office the following Monday and had the acting superintendent pick these savings stamp booklets up at the bank sometime in the afternoon.

The acting superintendent in turn gave them to Post Office Inspector Thorn, who had already inspected the savings stamp booklets redeemed by the Maplewood Post Office on Friday, July 22, and had recognized under an ultra-violet light the markings on the face of the stamps. On Monday morning, July 25, 1966, Thorn obtained a search warrant to search the Aaron Stamp and Coin Shop. The warrant stated in part that he had learned on July 22, that Leonard Aron cashed savings stamps at the Maplewood Post Office in the amount of $284.90 and that he (Thorn) was "informed through official post office channels that a part of the above-described savings stamps had been stolen in a burglary of the Longview Classified Post Office Station * * *" and that $625.00 in value of said stamps was taken, and further stated that a total of $14,450.13 in value of postage stamps were stolen at the same time. The affidavit also stated that a reliable informant had said that Aron from time to time purchased stolen postage stamps.

After obtaining the search warrant Thorn made a search of the stamp shop and found Magna Carta and Homemaker commemorative stamps, every fifth sheet of which had been marked by Inspector Gianos, and also found a stack of five cent Washington stamps which contained marked stamps and sheets in a sequence of every fifth sheet, with several of the sequences being broken but later reappearing in the stack.

It was after the search that Thorn went to the Maplewood Post Office and received the booklets of savings stamps cashed at the Bank from the acting superintendent of that office.

Of the stamps seized, 11 sheets of the 55 sheets of Magna Carta's were marked, 55 sheets of the 305 George Washington's were marked, and 12 of the 55 Homemaker commemorative sheets were marked. All of the savings stamps were marked. The stamps seized from Aron had a total value of $7,973.50. Gianos had marked 68 sheets of the ordinary Washington fives, of which 55 to 57 sheets were recovered from Aron, and all of the marked Magna Carta and Homemaker commemorative stamps were recovered.

Bowersox had also marked some of the sheets in his handwriting on the top sheets of various stacks of different denominations other than ordinary fives. While sheets of this type with his mark on them had been given to other postal clerks to sell, no sheets of large denominations as twenty-five and fifty cent stamps were sold to the public but were used for parcel post service and were placed on packages by the clerks. Bowersox recognized these sheets of stamps as bearing his mark.

Aron told Inspector Thorn that he had purchased the stamps either shortly before or after he had gone on vacation in late June or early July and that he had bought them from more than one person and that he could only describe one of the individuals who sold the stamps to him.

Aron testified that after he returned from his vacation on the 27th or 28th of June an individual walked into his store on about July 13, 1966, with a quantity of stamps which he bought for $3,000.00 in cash. The face value of these stamps was approximately $4,000.00. He did not get the individual's name and the only description he could give was that he looked like a certain prominent baseball player. He also stated that some of the savings stamps were acquired as part of a collection he purchased through an estate.

Aron in 1962 had pled guilty to the possession of a device for counterfeiting tobacco stamps and was sentenced to three years, six months imprisonment, which was later commuted to one year, seven months.

All of the stamps introduced into evidence at Aron's trial could have come from the Longview Branch burglary. None of these stamps was a collectors' item nor had any collection value over and above their face value as either postal stamps or savings stamps.

Under Count One of the indictment Aron was convicted of knowingly receiving and retaining the stolen United States savings stamps which he had redeemed at the Post Office and Bank. Under Count Two he was convicted of knowingly receiving and retaining the stolen United States postage stamps found in his store as a result of the search warrant on July 25, 1966.

Aron contends his conviction should be reversed outright as the evidence was insufficient to support a verdict against him. In reviewing a judgment of conviction we must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the Government. As stated in McKenna v. United States, 232 F.2d 431, at 435-436 (8 Cir. 1956):

"In considering this contention (motion for judgment of acquittal) we must view
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