U.S. v. Chorman, Nos. 88-5640

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore PHILLIPS, SPROUSE, and CHAPMAN; PHILLIPS
Citation910 F.2d 102
Docket NumberNos. 88-5640,88-5641
Decision Date19 September 1990
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Charles Donald CHORMAN, Defendant-Appellant. UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. John L. ERDMAN, a/k/a Pops, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 102

910 F.2d 102
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Charles Donald CHORMAN, Defendant-Appellant.
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
John L. ERDMAN, a/k/a Pops, Defendant-Appellant.
Nos. 88-5640, 88-5641.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.
Argued March 8, 1990.
Decided July 31, 1990.
As Amended Sept. 19, 1990.

Page 103

Samuel John Buffone, Asbill, Junkin, Myers & Buffone, Chartered, Washington, D.C., William Beverly Poff, Woods, Rogers & Hazlegrove, Roanoke, Va., argued (Henry W. Asbill, L. Barrett Boss, Asbill, Junkin, Myers & Buffone, Chartered, Washington, D.C., Frank K. Friedman, Woods, Rogers & Hazlegrove, Roanoke, Va., on brief), for defendants-appellants.

Douglas Cannon, Asst. U.S. Atty. argued (Robert H. Edmunds, Jr., U.S. Atty., Greensboro, N.C., on brief), for plaintiff-appellee.

Before PHILLIPS, SPROUSE, and CHAPMAN, Circuit Judges.

PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge:

Charles D. Chorman and John L. Erdman appeal from their convictions on multiple felony counts following their joint jury trial. Chorman and Erdman were indicted along with three other individuals and two corporations for conspiracy and substantive offenses arising from their involvement in

Page 104

an automobile "salvage/switch" operation. The jury convicted both Chorman and Erdman of conspiracy; Chorman was also convicted on thirteen substantive counts and Erdman was convicted on eight substantive counts. On appeal, each raises several issues, principal among them sufficiency of the evidence, improper jury instructions, improper rebuttal argument by the prosecutor, and failure of the district court to set forth the factual basis for fines imposed. We find no merit in the appellants' challenge to their convictions and therefore affirm those convictions. We vacate the district court's imposition of fines, however, and remand for that court to make the requisite factual findings under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 3572.
I

Chorman and Erdman were charged along with Thomas Bosco, his brother John, and Howard Clinton McLaurin, Jr. in a 36-count indictment alleging involvement in an automobile "salvage/switch" operation. In a salvage/switch operation, the public vehicle identification number (VIN) from a salvage auto, usually purchased at an insurance company auction, is removed from the dashboard of the auto. Each automobile's VIN is unique, consisting of seventeen letters and numerals which identify, inter alia, the manufacturer, the make and model, and the year and plant of assembly. New title is obtained for the salvage vehicle, ostensibly after repairs have made it roadworthy. A car closely resembling the salvage auto is then stolen (or a stolen car resembling the salvage auto is already available), that car's public VIN is replaced with the salvage auto's public VIN, and the VINs located elsewhere on the stolen vehicle are obliterated or stamped over with the salvage auto's VIN. 1 The stolen car is finally sold as a legitimate used car with the new title.

The indictment charged in count one that the five named individuals, other unnamed co-conspirators, Island Auto Wreckers, Inc. ("Island Auto"), a New York corporation that employed the appellants, and Thomas Bosco, and Silk Hope Automobile, Inc. ("Silk Hope"), McLaurin's Siler City, North Carolina, corporation, conspired to violate 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2312 by transporting in interstate commerce vehicles known to have been stolen. See id. Sec. 371. All the defendants were named in counts 2-26, which identified specific vehicles alleged to have been transported in interstate commerce knowing the same to have been stolen, in violation of id. Secs. 2312 and 2. Counts 27-36 charged the defendants with knowingly removing or tampering with the VINs of ten identified vehicles, in violation of id. Secs. 511(a) and 2.

The government first tried McLaurin after his severance motion was granted, and he was convicted on 35 of the 36 counts. Thomas and John Bosco pleaded guilty pursuant to plea agreements on the eve of trial. Erdman had also moved for severance before trial, but the court rejected his severance motion.

II

Appellants' challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence in their trial necessitates a rather detailed review of the evidence presented. When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence used to convict him, "the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) (emphasis in original). Our account of the evidence reflects that standard of review.

In its case-in-chief, the government's witnesses described the mechanics of a salvage/switch operation. The salvage autos were purchased by either Island Auto or Silk Hope to be "rebuilt" by the New York

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corporation. Erdman served as president of Island Auto while Chorman was identified as a buyer of salvage vehicles for the corporation. Once the "switch" had occurred with a stolen car, the stolen car with the salvage VIN and new title was sold by Island Auto to Silk Hope and transported to North Carolina. Government witnesses, often by way of stipulated testimony, traced all the stolen vehicles identified in the indictment through Island Auto and Silk Hope using the salvage auto VINs and the stolen vehicle VINs.

McLaurin testified for the government and explained the purported business relationship between Silk Hope and Island Auto. Silk Hope sold both salvaged auto parts and rebuilt vehicles. McLaurin said that he met Thomas Bosco in 1983 and the latter agreed to rebuild salvage cars for him. He saw Bosco frequently at salvage auctions, often in the company of Chorman, and though he never transacted business with Chorman, he assumed the two were partners. He did not know Erdman at all. If McLaurin bought the salvage auto, he paid Bosco only for "repair" work; if Island Auto bought the salvage auto, McLaurin would pay for the repair work and the auto itself.

McLaurin also explained his involvement with the ten cars identified in the VIN tampering counts. All of the cars involved had been sold by Island Auto to Silk Hope. McLaurin testified that he suspected that the cars might have been stolen and, identifying what he believed were altered VINs, attempted to reveal the original VINs by using a blow torch and acid. In the process, McLaurin completely obliterated the VINs on the ten vehicles. 2 The government charged that McLaurin, acting in furtherance of the conspiracy, intentionally obliterated the VINs in an effort to impede its investigation.

The government's evidence also developed in depth the "paper trail" of the cars and the transactions between Island Auto and Silk Hope. Bills of sale, invoices, and other documentation were signed by McLaurin on behalf of Silk Hope and normally by Erdman (and occasionally by Thomas Bosco) on behalf of Island Auto. McLaurin, through Silk Hope, regularly paid for autos rebuilt by Island Auto by issuing a pair of checks, in identical amounts, both naming Thomas Bosco as payee. On other occasions McLaurin issued checks, again in identical amounts, to John Bosco and one Eddie Janis, who died during investigation of the case. The evidence showed that one of Chorman's relatives had second-endorsed and cashed out or deposited one of the duplicate checks from Silk Hope to Thomas Bosco. 3 The government also showed that Chorman and his wife, who negotiated as second endorser some of the Silk Hope checks to Thomas Bosco, opened a joint bank account in 1983, and that another account in Chorman's wife's name in trust for him was active from 1983 until 1986 or 1987. During the period of the conspiracy, Silk Hope issued well over $1,900,000 in checks to the coconspirators.

The government's theory was that Chorman was the "silent partner" in Island Auto, 4 and to support that theory the government introduced testimony from Joel Denson regarding his past transactions with Chorman. Over defense objection, Denson testified that he sold cars for Chorman around 1983-1984. 5 He originally

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believed that Chorman had purchased the cars at salvage auctions, but he became suspicious that the cars might have been stolen. He confronted Chorman, who admitted that the particular car in question had been stolen; Denson agreed to sell the car anyway and Chorman agreed to double his commission. Denson eventually was convicted on state auto theft charges involving two other cars he obtained from Chorman. 6

The government bolstered its "silent partner" theory by introducing the testimony of NYPD officer Joseph Bodnar that when Chorman was arrested he indicated that "North Carolina doesn't have anything on me." Chorman inquired about the number of cars involved and when Bodnar told him that over one hundred cars were involved, Chorman's response was that "my name is on nothing."

IRS agent Lawrence Egan served a subpoena on Island Auto as part of the government's investigation. When Egan asked Erdman, who had identified himself as the president of the corporation, to produce the subpoenaed records, Erdman twice looked to Chorman, who was present along with Thomas Bosco, and asked what he should do. Egan also testified regarding conversations that ensued.

Mr. Erdman indicated that he was the president of Island Auto Wreckers, that Charles Chorman and Tommy Bosco were employees of his, that they were--that he handled all the financial records of the corporation, that Charles Chorman and Tommy Bosco bought and sold the cars, bought and sold parts. At this time Mr. Chorman indicated that--or stated that he had applied for a license to be the president of Island Auto Wreckers, he was denied the license, and that he had asked Mr. Erdman to be the president of Island Auto Wreckers.

Joint Appendix (J.A.) at 681.

Egan also...

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  • U.S. v. Burgos, Nos. 93-5899
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 23, 1996
    ...923, 931 (4th Cir.1995); Dozie, 27 F.3d at 97; United States v. Whittington, 26 F.3d 456, 465 (4th Cir.1994); United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 109 (4th Cir.1990); Laughman, 618 F.2d at 1076. Requiring that the defendant's connection to the conspiracy be "slight" in no way alleviates ......
  • U.S. v. Aramony, Nos. 95-5532
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 17, 1996
    ...provided that the substantive offense was committed in furtherance of the conspiracy and as a part of it"); United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 110 (4th Cir.1990) (same). "The idea behind the Pinkerton doctrine is that the conspirators are each other's agents; and a principal is bound b......
  • Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Nos. 96-1814
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • December 23, 1997
    ...and citing Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640, 646-47, 66 S.Ct. 1180, 1183-84, 90 L.Ed. 1489 (1946)); United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 111 (4th Cir.1990) In sum, Brzonkala has clearly alleged violations of VAWA. Virtually all of the earmarks of "hate crimes" are asserted here: ......
  • United States v. Lawson, Nos. 10–4831
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 20, 2012
    ...107 S.Ct. 1702, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987). Joinder is highly favored in conspiracy trials, such as the present case. United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 114 (4th Cir.1990); see also United States v. Ford, 88 F.3d 1350, 1361 (4th Cir.1996) (“For reasons of efficiency and judicial economy, co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
123 cases
  • U.S. v. Burgos, Nos. 93-5899
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • August 23, 1996
    ...923, 931 (4th Cir.1995); Dozie, 27 F.3d at 97; United States v. Whittington, 26 F.3d 456, 465 (4th Cir.1994); United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 109 (4th Cir.1990); Laughman, 618 F.2d at 1076. Requiring that the defendant's connection to the conspiracy be "slight" in no way alleviates ......
  • U.S. v. Aramony, Nos. 95-5532
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 17, 1996
    ...provided that the substantive offense was committed in furtherance of the conspiracy and as a part of it"); United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 110 (4th Cir.1990) (same). "The idea behind the Pinkerton doctrine is that the conspirators are each other's agents; and a principal is bound b......
  • Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Nos. 96-1814
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • December 23, 1997
    ...and citing Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640, 646-47, 66 S.Ct. 1180, 1183-84, 90 L.Ed. 1489 (1946)); United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 111 (4th Cir.1990) In sum, Brzonkala has clearly alleged violations of VAWA. Virtually all of the earmarks of "hate crimes" are asserted here: ......
  • United States v. Lawson, Nos. 10–4831
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • April 20, 2012
    ...107 S.Ct. 1702, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987). Joinder is highly favored in conspiracy trials, such as the present case. United States v. Chorman, 910 F.2d 102, 114 (4th Cir.1990); see also United States v. Ford, 88 F.3d 1350, 1361 (4th Cir.1996) (“For reasons of efficiency and judicial economy, co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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