U.S. v. Wilson

Decision Date19 April 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-20041,00-20041
Citation249 F.3d 366
Parties(5th Cir. 2001) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. GEORGE L.J. WILSON, Defendant-Appellant
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Appeal from the United States District Court For the Southern District of Texas

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, DAVIS, and JONES, Circuit Judges.

W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judge:

George Wilson was indicted on multiple charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, mail fraud, and engaging in monetary transactions involving property derived from specified unlawful activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), 1956(a)(1)(A)(i), 1341, and 1957(a). Wilson was tried by a jury and convicted on eighteen of nineteen counts. He now appeals these convictions. For the reasons that follow, we REMAND for a hearing on Wilson's motion to dismiss and otherwise AFFIRM, subject to the district court's ruling on that motion.


George Wilson was a prominent businessman in Nassau, Bahamas. In 1986, he became involved with the Winston Hill Assurance Company, which at that time provided bonding services. Wilson's relationship with Winston Hill began in 1986 when American businessman and former Texas state senator, James Day, approached Wilson. Day proposed that he procure the necessary approvals and business for Winston Hill to expand into the casualty insurance business if Wilson would provide the financial support to underwrite that business. Wilson agreed, and the company began selling insurance through brokers.

Wilson was the president of Winston Hill, and operated out of Winston Hill's home office in Nassau. Winston Hill's Nassau staff also included a secretary, an office manager, a receptionist, a typist, and the firm's accountant, Norwood Rolle. The Nassau office was an old, small, unkempt, two-story house. Winston Hill's other office was located in Houston, Texas. Steve Udell, James Day, Dion Burkard, and John Adair were all employees of the Houston office. Udell (a lawyer) and Day headed up the Houston office, Burkard was the office manager and later became a junior underwriter, and Adair was the accountant.

In August 1996, Winston Hill was reportedly capitalized with $5,000,000. Winston Hill issued financial statements to brokers reporting the following total assets: over $63,000,000 on December 31, 1988, over $65,000,000 on March 31, 1989, almost $67,000,000 on September 30, 1989, and over $70,000,000 on December 31, 1989. The financial statement reporting over $63,000,000 in total assets as of December 31, 1988 was audited by Norwood Rolle.

Winston Hill reported that a large portion of the company's assets were held in Gulf Union Bank in Nassau, Bahamas. Insurance brokers and insurance regulators uniformly testified that Wilson and other employees of Winston Hill denied them access to the records to substantiate these assets. Wilson and Udell assured brokers that the assets were in Gulf Union Bank, but they were unwilling to provide any proof other than the financial statements.

By June of 1990, Winston Hill was placed on the California Department of Insurance's (CDOI) "watch list." CDOI places a company on this list after it receives a number of complaints of a company's tardy payment of claims. A letter sent by the CDOI on March 20, 1991 triggered a regulatory bulletin directing its insurance broker members not to do business with Winston Hill.

By December 1991, Winston Hill had filed for bankruptcy in the Turks and Caicos Islands - the site of incorporation. Norwood Rolle, Winston Hill's accountant, was appointed as liquidator to wind up the company. Rolle went to Houston and filed an ancillary proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. That court appointed Steve Smith to serve as the co-fiduciary of this proceeding. Because Rolle had been actively involved in Winston Hill's business, Smith had Rolle removed as the company's liquidator, and took over that position himself. Smith determined that most of Winston Hill's assets were located in the Gulf Union Bank in Nassau.

Smith received records of Winston Hill's account at Gulf Union Bank. These records showed the following balances: $174 on April 30, 1988; $11,749 on December 31, 1988; $155 on March 31, 1989; $8,637 on June 30, 1989; $26 on September 30, 1989; $11,187 on December 31, 1989; and negative $51,390 on December 31, 1990. Smith's was unable to locate any other significant assets of Winston Hill.

Wilson was indicted on nineteen counts, and was convicted on counts one through eighteen. The Government's case revolved around Wilson's alleged false statements (primarily about the financial condition of Winston Hill) designed to attract insurance premiums to the company, along with related money laundering and other illegal monetary transactions. He now appeals this eighteen-count conviction on a number of grounds which we consider below.


Wilson makes several arguments regarding the application of the statute of limitations in his case which we consider below.


First, he contends that the district court erred in granting the Government's application to toll the statute of limitations in this case, and later, in failing to dismiss the entire indictment because the statute of limitations had expired.

The latest offense date alleged in the indictment was June 26, 1991. The indictment in this case was not returned until October 26, 1998. Wilson therefore contends that the indictment is untimely because it was returned outside of the five-year statute of limitations provided by 18 U.S.C. 3282.1 The Government argues that the indictment here was returned timely because the district court granted its application for a suspension of the statute of limitations under 18 U.S.C. 3292 on December 21, 1994. Section 3292 provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

(a)(1) Upon application of the United States, filed before return of an indictment, indicating that evidence of an offense is in a foreign country, the district court before which a grand jury is impaneled to investigate the offense shall suspend the running of the statute of limitations for the offense if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that an official request has been made for such evidence....


Wilson first maintains that the district court erred in tolling the statute of limitations under 18 U.S.C. 3292 in its December 21, 1994 Order. We review the factual findings underlying the district court's decision to toll the statute of limitations for clear error. United States v. Meador, 138 F.3d 986, 991 (5th Cir. 1998). An application to toll the statute of limitations under 3292 is a preindictment, ex parte proceeding. Thus, the only evidence the district court had before it was the evidence presented by the United States.

In its application for tolling, the United States presented the district court with a copy of a letter addressed to the Attorney General of the Bahamas and signed by the Director of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs. This letter requested "authenticated copies of the records of all accounts at the Gulf Union Bank of Nassau under the names of Winston Hill, George Wilson, and Management International" and "authenticated copies of all records of the Registrar General's Office...relating to the Winston Hill Assurance Company." R. at 1-304-10.2 The United States represented to the court that this letter was delivered to the Bahamian government on or about November 24, 1993. The words "VIA FEDERAL EXPRESS" were typewritten at the top of the letter. Based on this evidence, the district court made the finding required by 3292: the United States made an official request to the Bahamian government for evidence located in the Bahamas. In light of the evidence the Government presented, the district court did not clearly err in finding that the United States made this request for evidence and correctly tolled the statute of limitations.


Wilson next challenges the district court's July 13, 1999 Order denying his motion to dismiss the indictment as untimely, as well as his request for a hearing on this motion. In his bare bones motion to dismiss, Wilson asserted that the applicable statute of limitations for all counts of the indictment was five years, and that the five-year period expired before the indictment was returned. Wilson did not address in his motion the fact that the district court had tolled the statute.

The Government responded to Wilson's motion to dismiss by stating that a formal legal assistance request had been made of the Bahamian government, and that the statute of limitations had been tolled under 18 U.S.C. 3292. It attached the Department of Justice's November 24, 1993 letter, described above, its application for tolling filed on December 12, 1994, and the district court's December 21, 1994 Order tolling the statute of limitations. The district court denied Wilson's motion because the statute of limitations had been tolled by its December 21, 1994 Order. The court found that the "official request" required under 3292 was made on November 24, 1993 and that the statute of limitations was therefore suspended from that day until November 23, 1996. The court then determined that the filing of the indictment on October 26, 1998 was timely, given the above suspension period.

We review the district court's denial of a motion to dismiss de novo. Yates v. Stalder, 217 F.3d 332, 334 (5th Cir. 2000). Wilson did not assert in his motion to dismiss or elsewhere that the Government did not make a formal legal assistance request of the Bahamian government, nor did he argue that the statute of limitations was improperly tolled. The Government produced ample evidence to show that the statute of limitations was extended as a result of tolling under 3292, and that the indictment was therefore returned...

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