U.S. v. Mansker

Decision Date20 January 2003
Docket NumberNo. CR02-4060-MWB.,CR02-4060-MWB.
Citation240 F.Supp.2d 902
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Todd Allan MANSKER, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

Shawn Stephen Wehde, Special Ass't, U.S. Attorney's Office, Sioux City, IA, for Plaintif

Shelley A. Horak, Horak & Associates, Sioux City, IA, for Defendant.


BENNETT, Chief Judge.

The scene is a familiar one in this district—at the close of the government's conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine case, the exhibit table situated at the front of the courtroom is piled high with exhibits. On the table sit methamphetamine, drug packaging materials, cutting agents, videotaped surveillance, photographs, pipes, straws, scales, money, drug notes with names and telephone numbers, telephone and cell phone records, receipts for lithium batteries, discarded and dismantled lithium batteries, Ephedrine tablets, discarded Ephedrine packaging, muriatic acid, anhydrous ammonia storage containers, and other precursor materials. Not every drug trial has all of this evidence (although many of them do), but in the undersigned's experience as a trial judge in the district with the 6th busiest criminal docket per judge in the nation, every drug trial has some of it.

That is, until United States of America v. Mansker. At the close of this trial, the exhibit table was barren because not a single exhibit was introduced. The jury found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and the government's only evidence was the testimony of six convicted drug felons hoping to receive reductions in their sentences by inculpating the defendant without any corroborating physical evidence.

This case opens the windows on but one of the many flaws in the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The theory underlying the Guidelines's scheme of allowing for sentence reductions at the prosecutor's discretion if a defendant provides information on his fellow co-conspirators is that the "substantial assistance" motions will be carrots to dangle in front of the noses of defendants facing long sentences. In theory, the motions enable the United States Attorney's Office to use the little fish to catch the big fish.1

Sentencing reductions for cooperation can be substantial. For example, in this case, one cooperating witness had a Guideline range of 240 months to life imprisonment. As a result of the witness's "substantial assistance," the government moved under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) and under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 to reduce his sentence below his Guideline range and below the statutory mandatory minimum. Absent the government making these motions, the court would have been required to impose at least a 20 year sentence. However, because of the government's motions, the court was empowered to go below his Guideline range, and the witness was ultimately sentenced to 75 months. Furthermore, because this particular witness testified in this trial and two others, the government moved under Rule 35 to reduce his sentence even further.

Theoretical underpinnings aside, this case compels the court to echo Judge Bright's oft-repeated criticism of the United States Sentencing Guidelines: "What kind of a criminal justice system rewards the drug kingpin or near-kingpin who informs on all the criminal colleagues he or she has recruited, but sends to prison for years and years the least knowledgeable or culpable conspirator, one who knows very little about the conspiracy and is without information for the prosecutors?" United States v. Griffin, 17 F.3d 269, 274 (8th Cir.1994) (Bright, J., dissenting). Until Congress speaks otherwise, the answer, sadly, is our system.


On July 23, 2002, the United States Grand Jury for the Northern District of Iowa returned a one-count indictment against defendant Todd Allan Mansker, charging him with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), and 21 U.S.C. § 846. The indictment identifies the time period of the conspiracy as between 1997 and February 2002.

On October 7, 2002, this case proceeded to trial before a jury. At trial, the government identified eight cooperating witnesses but ultimately called six cooperating witnesses because the court excluded two witnesses from testifying. Each cooperating witness who testified named the defendant as an occasional source of their supply of methamphetamine, as a purchaser of methamphetamine in too great a quantity to be for personal use, or as a middle-man in the witness's own enterprise of distributing methamphetamine.

The court's exclusion of two cooperating witnesses arose out of the defendant's motion for sanctions. Midway through trial, the defendant fortuitously learned that he was missing potentially exculpatory discovery documents because one government witness, Cory Derby, testified that he debriefed twice, but the government had provided Mr. Mansker's counsel with only one debriefing report. The court recessed and ordered the government to produce all of Mr. Derby's debriefing reports, as well as any other possible discovery document that should have been produced but was overlooked. The government complied and produced the reports, as well as two Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") agents' handwritten notes from the debriefings. At this point, the defendant moved for sanctions for the government's failure to produce exculpatory evidence. The defendant argued that the non-disclosed reports were exculpatory because they failed to mention the defendant. The court held a hearing on the defendant's motion for sanctions and, at the conclusion of the hearing, found that these documents were exculpatory because the witnesses during these interviews provided ostensibly complete lists of their drug suppliers and customers but notably failed to identify defendant Mansker. In addition, one of the DEA agent's handwritten notes of Mr. Derby's debriefing, but not the finalized typewritten report, contained defendant Mansker's name but in an exculpatory fashion.

On the third day of trial, the defendant renewed his motion for sanctions, raising a new issue—the failure of the government to reveal impeachment evidence of one of its witnesses, Paula Meilleur. Ms. Meilleur admitted in a separate trial that she had lied in court regarding her involvement in drug trafficking. Government's counsel was unaware of this witness's testimony, but the case agent assigned to Mansker's case was involved in the other trial.

The defendant requested dismissal with prejudice as a sanction for the government's failure to provide exculpatory information and because of its failure to turn over the transcript in which Ms. Meilleur admitted to committing perjury, but the court instead excluded the government's cooperating witnesses who had not yet testified, Paula Meilleur and Cloie Hegge, as well as the testimony of Task Force Officer Dail Fellin. In his post-trial motions, the defendant renews his request for dismissal and, in the alternative, now requests that the court strike the testimony of all six of the government witnesses who testified because handwritten notes of these witnesses' interviews were not disclosed.

At the close of the government's case, the defendant moved for judgment of acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. The court reserved ruling on this motion. Defendant Mansker testified on his own behalf and called two witnesses—Patrick Pinney (the defendant's employer) and Alex Bender (the defendant's friend). Mansker testified that he was a methamphetamine user but denied involvement in a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. He testified, however, that he occasionally purchased personal use quantities of methamphetamine and that he and his friends would sometimes share their methamphetamine. Mr. Pinney testified about Mr. Mansker's personal background and strong work ethic, and Mr. Bender testified about Mr. Mansker's good character and about their joint use of methamphetamine. At the conclusion of all the evidence, defendant Mansker renewed his motion for judgment of acquittal, and the court once again reserved ruling.

On October 9, 2002, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Mr. Mansker. On November 13, 2002, Mr. Mansker filed a renewed motion for sanctions for the government's violation of discovery rules, the Jencks Act, and the Brady rule, a motion for judgment of acquittal, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c), and a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. In his post-trial motion for sanctions, the defendant argues that the government's destruction of its hand-written interview notes violates his right to due process. In his post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal, Mr. Mansker contends that his conviction was secured through the use of perjured and inherently incredible testimony and that the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict against him on the charge set forth in the indictment. Mr. Mansker makes the same contention as the basis for his post-trial motion for new trial. The government filed a timely resistance to each motion.

A. Motion for Sanctions

In his renewed motion for sanctions, the defendant contends that the destruction of the agents' handwritten notes constituted a violation of the Jencks Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3500, and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). Furthermore, the defendant renews his argument made at trial that the government's failure to turn over exculpatory information violated the Jencks Act and Brady. The government resists the defendant's motion and...

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3 cases
  • United States v. Giron
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of North Dakota
    • December 18, 2017
    ...witnesses contain 'exculpatory' evidence, which would be required to be produced under Brady v. Maryland."); United States v. Mansker, 240 F. Supp. 2d 902, 906-07 (N.D. Iowa 2003) (prohibiting government witness from testifying as a sanction for the government failing to turn over informati......
  • United States v. Bates
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • January 23, 2023
    ...for suppression. Similarly, United States v. Mansker, 240 F.Supp.2d 902 (N.D. Iowa 2003) is distinguishable from the present case. In Mansker the court did not address a motion to suppress, but addressed, among other issues, a motion for sanctions relating to the destruction of a law enforc......
  • U.S. v. Mason, CR No. 06-106-02S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island
    • July 26, 2007
    ...practices that offer the possibility of increasing the reliability of evidence in criminal cases. See, e.g., United States v. Mansker, 240 F.Supp.2d 902, 910-11 (N.D.Iowa 2003); United States v. Azure, 1999 WL 33218402 (D.S.D., Oct.19, 1999); Erik Lillquist, Improving Accuracy in Criminal C......
1 books & journal articles
  • Recording federal custodial interviews.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 45 No. 4, September 2008
    • September 22, 2008
    ...States v. Plummer, 118 F. Supp. 2d 945 (N.D. Iowa 2000). (75.) Id. at 949 n.2. (76.) Id. (77.) Id. (78.) United States v. Mansker, 240 F. Supp. 2d 902, 910-11 (N.D. Iowa 2003) ("[T]he court is troubled by the agents' practice of destroying their notes after typewritten summaries have been p......

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