U.S. v. Rahseparian, No. 99-6031

Decision Date07 November 2000
Docket NumberNo. 99-6031
Citation231 F.3d 1257
Parties(10th Cir. 2000) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JALAL RAHSEPARIAN, also known as Jack Rahseparian, Defendant-Appellant
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the WesternDistrict of Oklahoma. (D.C. No. 98-CR-70-A) [Copyrighted Material Omitted] Lawrence S. Robbins (Lily Fu Swenson, with him on the briefs), of Mayer, Brown & Platt, Washington, D.C., for Defendant-Appellant.

Barbara E. Poarch, Assistant United States Attorney (Patrick M. Ryan, United States Attorney, with her on the briefs), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before SEYMOUR, Chief Judge, TACHA and BRISCOE, Circuit Judges.

SEYMOUR, Chief Judge.

After a joint jury trial, co-defendants Ardashir (aka Ardie), Daryoush (aka Steve), and Jalal (aka Jack) Rahseparian were convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering. We affirmed the convictions of Steve and Ardie in the companion opinion filed simultaneously herewith. See United States v. Rahseparian, F.3d , Nos. 99-6050, 99-6052 (10th Cir. filed Nov. 7, 2000). Jack contends the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. Because we agree, we need not consider the other issues he raises on appeal.

I BACKGROUND

Ardie and Steve Rahseparian are the sons of Jack Rahseparian. At the time of the conduct for which they were charged, Steve resided in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Ardie resided in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Jack resided and worked in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The government argued successfully to the jury that Ardie and Steve Rahseparian formed Genesis Marketing, a telemarketing company, through which they and their father conspired to commit and did commit mail fraud from May 1994 to May 1995. The government further successfully argued that Ardie, Steve, and Jack Rahseparian laundered the proceeds from the telemarketing scheme through Jack's business checking accounts.

Submitting no evidence, the Rahseparians' defense relied on the theory that Ardie and Steve never intended to commit fraud but rather intended only to run a legitimate telemarketing business. Jack Rahseparian contends he was only doing minimal banking for his sons with no knowledge of any illegal activity, and he thus did not have the requisite intent to conspire with his sons to commit mail fraud. He further argues that because he did not know Genesis was committing mail fraud, he could not be found guilty of laundering its proceeds.

At trial, the government's case regarding Jack's intent was, as is typical with such criminal ventures, entirely circumstantial. Brad Russell, the company's only employee other than the Rahseparians themselves, testified on behalf of the government. Mr. Russell was a personal friend of Ardie. The two worked out of Ardie's apartment in Fort Smith as the sole telemarketers for Genesis Marketing. Mr. Russell testified that he and Ardie would entice customers over the telephone to buy products, such as water purifiers and "Say No to Drugs" kits, at highly inflated prices in exchange for a guaranteed valuable prize. Those customers never received their promised prizes, however, and many did not even receive their purchased product.

Mr. Russell's testimony established that each day after he and Ardie made the solicitations, they would forward information to Steve Rahseparian regarding the customers' names, the product purchased and the amount paid, and which cheaper prize had been mentioned to the customer. Steve was supposed to fill the orders and ship the cheap prize from Pennsylvania to the customers. Mr. Russell testified that, after a period, he and Ardie began receiving complaints from customers that they had not received their products or their prizes, and that these complaints were reported to Steve. Although some customers ultimately received their purchased products, none received their promised prizes.

Mr. Russell further testified that he and Ardie directed customers to send their checks for the purchase price via Federal Express to a mailbox located in Shawnee, Oklahoma. This mailbox was provided by a commercial vendor called "The Copy Stop."1 The mailbox was set up in the name "Steven Woods/Genesis Marketing." The Copy Stop's records indicated the local contact for the box was a person named "Jack," with a local telephone number of Jack Rahseparian's business.

The government established that the checks were deposited into three separate bank accounts: a business checking account at American National Bank in Shawnee, Oklahoma, established in the name of Jack Rahseparian's business; a business checking account at MidFirst Bank in Shawnee, Oklahoma, also established in the name of Jack's business; and a joint checking account at the MidFirst Bank established in the names of Jack and Steve Rahseparian. In addition, Mr. Russell testified that Jack called Ardie every day or every other day to find out "how many checks to expect and how much they were." Rec., vol. II at 546. Mr. Russell testified that Jack picked up those checks from the mailbox and deposited them into his accounts.

To bolster their case regarding Jack's criminal intent, the government offered evidence of his false exculpatory statements. After officers were alerted to the criminal activity of Genesis Marketing, they investigated the bank accounts connected to the deposit of defrauded customers' payments, and discovered Jack Rahseparian's business accounts in Shawnee. Two officers approached Jack in November 1996 and inquired into the source of those deposited funds. Jack first denied knowing anything about Genesis Marketing, and then fabricated a story that he had cashed the checks payable to Genesis Marketing for a man for whom he held catering events. He even described the man as a white male, approximately 25 to 28 years old. He also denied knowing anything about the mailbox at The Copy Stop or that he had ever retrieved mail from it. He further denied setting up the joint checking account for himself and Steve at MidFirst, and claimed he did not make the first deposits to open that account and did not know where those deposits came from.

After hearing all of this evidence and reviewing the supporting documentary evidence, the jury found Jack guilty of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering. He moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing there was insufficient evidence that he conspired to or intended to commit mail fraud, or that he intended to commit money laundering. The district court denied the motion, pointing to the evidence that Jack was the contact person for the mailbox, did Genesis Marketing's banking, and made false exculpatory statements when questioned by the FBI. The court held this evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude Jack agreed to and participated in the scheme with Ardie and Steve to deceive Genesis Marketing customers and to launder the proceeds.

II INSUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE

On appeal, Jack contends the government failed to present sufficient evidence of his intent to commit these crimes. Conspiracy, mail fraud, and money laundering are specific intent crimes. See United States v. Boyd, 149 F.3d 1062, 1067 (10th Cir. 1998) (money laundering requires specific intent to launder proceeds from a known unlawful activity); United States v. Smith, 133 F.3d 737, 742 (10th Cir. 1997) (mail fraud required specific intent to defraud); United States v. Blair, 54 F.3d 639, 642 (10th Cir. 1995) (conspiracy requires specific intent to further the unlawful activity which is the object of the conspiracy). The government was thus required to prove Jack specifically intended to defraud Genesis' customers, that he made an agreement to that end, and that he laundered the proceeds knowing they were obtained through illegal activity.

Sufficiency of evidence is a question of law that we review de novo. United States v. Carter, 130 F.3d 1432, 1439 (10th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 118 S. Ct. 1856 (1998). To determine whether evidence is sufficient to uphold a conviction, "we examine, in a light most favorable to the government, all of the evidence together with the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom and ask whether any rational juror could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Aruntunoff, 1 F.3d 1112, 1116 (10th Cir. 1993). Moreover, we "accept the jury's resolution of conflicting evidence . . . . As long as the possible inferences are reasonable, it was for the jury, not the court, to determine what may have occurred." United States v. Grissom, 44 F.3d 1507, 1510 (10th Cir. 1995). We will not uphold a conviction, however, that was obtained by nothing more than "piling inference upon inference," United States v. Fox, 902 F.2d 1508, 1513 (10th Cir. 1990), or where the evidence raises no more "than a mere suspicion of guilt," Smith, 133 F.3d at 742.

A. Mail Fraud and Conspiracy

To convict Jack of mail fraud, the government was required to prove (1) the devising of a scheme or artifice either to defraud or for obtaining money by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises; (2) the specific intent to defraud; and (3) use of the United States mails to execute the scheme. United States v. Kennedy, 64 F.3d 1465, 1475 (10th Cir. 1995); 18 U.S.C. 1341. To convict him of conspiracy, the government had to establish: (1) the defendant's agreement with another person to violate the law; (2) his knowledge of the essential objective of the conspiracy; (3) his knowing and voluntary involvement; and (4) interdependence among the alleged coconspirators. See United States v. Edwards, 69 F.3d 419, 430 (10th Cir. 1995); 18 U.S.C. 371.

Jack argues the evidence is insufficient to show he knew Genesis Marketing was defrauding its customers, an essential element of both the mail fraud and the conspiracy alleged in this case. Without such...

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