U.S. v. Williams

Decision Date17 December 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-6600,90-6600
Citation952 F.2d 1504
Parties34 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 998 UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Jerry WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Joe B. Brown, U.S. Atty., Wendy Goggin, Melissa Harrison, Asst. U.S. Attys., William Cohen, Asst. U.S. Atty., (Argued and Briefed), Nashville, Tenn., for U.S.

Richard McGee (Argued and Briefed), Nashville, Tenn., James D. Causey, Memphis, Tenn., for Jerry Williams.

Before MARTIN and MILBURN, Circuit Judges, and JOINER, Senior District Judge. *

MILBURN, Circuit Judge.

Defendant Jerry Williams appeals his jury conviction and sentence for conspiracy to extort and extortion under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 1951. The issues raised in this appeal by the defendant are (1) whether the district court erred in denying defendant's special jury instruction request No. 1 and in giving its instruction regarding the definition of extortion under the Hobbs Act; (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the federal sentencing guidelines in this matter; and (3) whether defendant's right to a fair trial as secured by the Sixth Amendment was denied as a result of rulings by the district court to admit and exclude certain evidence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the defendant's conviction but reverse and remand as to his sentence.


William Freeman and James Webb are the co-owners of Freeman-Webb Company Realtors ("Freeman-Webb"), a real estate company in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. In July of 1987, Freeman-Webb purchased a tract of land in the Bellevue section of Nashville, Tennessee, for approximately One Million Eight Hundred Sixty Thousand Dollars ($1,860,000). Although the property was zoned P.U.D. for apartment units, Freeman-Webb planned to develop the property for multi-use, specifically commercial. The real estate company obtained a line of credit of Three Million Dollars ($3,000,000) to purchase and develop the property. Shortly after the purchase, the company also entered into a contract to sell the front portion of the property to the Mitchell Company. However, the sale was contingent upon the zoning of the property being changed from apartments to a commercial development.

In Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, rezoning requires the approval of the Metropolitan Council, which must approve a bill changing zoning. If the Planning Commission approves the rezoning, a vote of 21 council members must approve the rezoning. If, however, the Planning Commission does not approve the rezoning, a vote of 27 Metropolitan Council members is required to approve the rezoning. Under an unwritten rule of courtesy, however, if the Metropolitan Councilman in whose district the property is located supports the rezoning, the other council members will also support the rezoning.

In an effort to have their property rezoned, Freeman and Webb met with a number of individuals, including Metropolitan Councilman Gary Odom in whose district the property was located. Mr. Odom told Freeman and Webb that he would not support the rezoning if Lafayette "Fate" Thomas, the Sheriff of Davidson County, was against it. Planning Commission member Jimmy Vance told them that he needed to know that Thomas did not have a problem with the project before he could support it. At that time, Sheriff Thomas was an extremely powerful politician who lived across the street from the property in the Coronado Condominiums.

Freeman and Webb met with Sheriff Thomas prior to the March 31, 1988, Planning Commission meeting when the proposed rezoning was to be first considered. During their meeting, Sheriff Thomas told them that he did not have any reason to be opposed to the project, and that they needed to work with the community. However, at the March 31, 1988, meeting of the Planning Commission, Freeman and Webb learned for the first time that Sheriff Thomas was opposed to the project and had even signed a petition against it. The rezoning was not approved by the Planning Commission at the March 1988 meeting.

Thereafter, Freeman-Webb made a number of changes to their proposed project, including a decision to build homes on the rear portion of the property rather than apartments. They spoke with a number of people about how they could change Sheriff Thomas' position on the project and enlisted the aid of others to assist them in that regard. One such person was Joseph Shrum, the real estate agent who had handled the contract between the Mitchell Company and Freeman-Webb. As Shrum knew that defendant Jerry Williams was a close associate of Sheriff Thomas, Shrum met with Williams and asked him if he could talk with Sheriff Thomas about the project. Williams told Shrum that he would be meeting with Thomas that day.

Shrum and Williams met again later that same day, and Williams told Shrum that he could be of some assistance, but that it would cost Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000). After being told that was too much money for such a small project, Williams replied that he would go talk to "his man" and get back with Shrum. A third meeting that same day was held between Shrum and Williams at which time Williams advised Shrum that "it could be done" for Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000). This information was then passed on by Shrum to Freeman and Webb.

At the first part of June 1988, Freeman, Shrum, and another individual traveled to Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, defendant Williams took Freeman aside and asked him if he had talked with Mr. Shrum and understood the "deal." Freeman told Williams that he would get back with him at a later date.

Thereafter, a series of telephone conversations took place between Freeman and defendant Williams up to June 23, 1988. Williams told Freeman that he could help him with Sheriff Thomas and also told Freeman that he could show him in a test that he could deliver the sheriff. Thereafter, at a meeting of the Metropolitan Council, Freeman observed a deputy sheriff telling Councilman Odom that Fate Thomas was "okay on this if you are, and you would know what he meant." This event was referred to by Freeman and Williams in a later conversation that was recorded. Freeman-Webb's rezoning proposal was presented to the Planning Commission a second time on June 23, 1988. At that meeting, Sheriff Thomas was sitting on the front row immediately adjacent to the table where the commissioners were sitting. When the commission asked individuals opposed to the Freeman-Webb project to stand, Sheriff Thomas stood. After the rezoning proposal failed again, Freeman and Webb became convinced that they could not be successful in having their property rezoned unless Sheriff Thomas supported them.

Thereafter, Freeman-Webb again made a number of additional changes to their project. They also decided to seek the direct approval of the Metropolitan Council rather than first obtaining the approval of the Planning Commission. George Armistead, a Councilman at Large, agreed to introduce a rezoning bill for them.

On August 8, 1988, Councilman Armistead went to see Sheriff Thomas because Thomas lived across the street from the proposed project and because Thomas had a great deal of political influence. After Armistead told Sheriff Thomas that he was introducing the rezoning bill for Freeman-Webb, Thomas replied, "What's in it for Thomas?" Architect Kevin Tucker, whose firm had been hired by Freeman-Webb to assist them, was present for a portion of the meeting between the councilman and the sheriff and left some architectural drawings of the proposed development with Thomas.

Architect Tucker met with defendant Williams later that same day. Williams had with him the plans Tucker had left earlier with Thomas. Williams advised Tucker that Freeman-Webb had to have Thomas on their side, and that they were "dead" if they did not have Thomas' support. Williams then spoke of a "consulting fee" which would "flow" to make the right things happen and also told Tucker that he, Williams, had the right access to Sheriff Thomas which was needed to get the rezoning approved. Immediately following this meeting, Architect Tucker told Freeman what had occurred.

Around the time the rezoning bill was introduced by Councilman Armistead, Freeman had a further conversation with real estate agent Shrum, who told Freeman that he had received a telephone call from defendant Williams. Williams had asked Shrum if the developers and Shrum were trying to go around him. Williams had further stated that the project was not going to get approved without Sheriff Thomas and him, that they had stopped the project once, and could stop it again. Freeman was convinced that defendant Williams and Sheriff Thomas were capable of stopping the project, and that if they were not paid the money demanded, the rezoning bill would never be passed.

During this same period of time, architect Tucker had a series of conversations with Milton "Rip" Hornbuckle, a good friend of Sheriff Thomas. After explaining to Mr. Hornbuckle what the project was about, he asked Hornbuckle to speak with Sheriff Thomas. After contacting Sheriff Thomas, Hornbuckle informed Tucker that Thomas wanted something for his support and in a later conversation, advised Tucker that Thomas wanted One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000). It was Tucker's understanding that the entire amount stated by Hornbuckle was to go to Sheriff Thomas. The content of these conversations was reported by Tucker to Freeman and Webb.

Being convinced that they could not obtain the rezoning if they did not pay money and that they would go to jail if they did, Freeman, Webb, and Tucker decided to report what had transpired to the law enforcement authorities. On August 15, 1988, they spoke with Freeman's friend, Harold "Ed" Creamer, a United States Secret Service agent. Mr. Creamer passed the information on to agents of the Federal Bureau...

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