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United States v. Hoffa

October 4, 1966

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES R. HOFFA, BENJAMIN DRANOW, ZACHARY A. STRATE, JR., S. GEORGE BURRIS, ABE I. WEINBLATT, CALVIN KOVENS, AND SAMUEL HYMAN, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Duffy, Senior Circuit Judge, and Castle and Swygert, Circuit Judges. Swygert, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

Author: Duffy

DUFFY, Senior Circuit Judge.

The appellants herein were indicted on June 4, 1963, on twenty-eight counts. The first twenty-seven counts charged substantive violations of the mail and wire fraud statutes (18 U.S.C. ยงยง 1341, 1343). The twenty-eighth count charged a conspiracy to commit the substantive offenses. The jury convicted all appellants on the conspiracy count, and each appellant on certain of the substantive counts.

The Court directed a judgment of acquittal of all defendants on Counts 2, 5, 11, 26 and 27. The Government dismissed Counts 10 and 18.

Except for the interstate transmission or mailing involved, the allegations of each of the first twenty-seven counts are, for all practical purposes, identical, alleging the same scheme to defraud the Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund, often referred to in the record as the Teamsters Pension Fund or just the Pension Fund.

The indictment charged and the proof showed that defendant James R. Hoffa was president of the Teamsters International Union,*fn1 president of Local 299 of the Teamsters Union in Detroit,*fn2 and also a trustee of the Teamsters Pension Fund.

The indictment charged that the defendants conspired and did "devise a scheme and artifice to defraud the Pension Fund * * * by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations and promises by submitting false and misleading statements of material fact and by concealing material facts in order to obtain loans from the Pension Fund; and diverting, through various fraudulent devices, substantial amounts of the loan proceeds for their personal use and benefit."

The indictment described the alleged scheme in some detail including the following: Defendants Dranow and Burris contacted prospective loan applicants and obtained employment as their agents for procuring Pension Fund loans. Dranow and Burris induced the prospective loan applicants to retain them by holding themselves out as being in a specially favored position to obtain Pension Fund loans because of their special relationship with defendant Hoffa. Hoffa and Kovens referred some of these prospective loan applicants to Dranow and Burris. Among the loan applicants involved were defendants Strate and Hyman.

The indictment further charged that Dranow, Burris, Strate, Hyman and Kovens participated in the preparation and submission of inflated loan applications to the Pension Fund; that these applications contained material falsifications and concealed material facts and that defendant Hoffa made misrepresentations to and concealed material facts from the trustees and staff members of the Fund.

The indictment further alleged that all of the defendants enriched themselves by causing more than $1,000,000 of the fraudulently obtained loan proceeds to be diverted to purposes other than those approved by the Pension Fund trustees. In addition, the defendants, by their participation in the scheme, allegedly obtained stock options, fees and contracts for services, construction fees, and ownership and control of borrowing corporations.

The indictment charged that in disposing of some of the diverted loan proceeds, the defendants applied more than $100,000 to the repayment of debts incurred by Sun Valley, Inc., a Florida real estate corporation, in which Hoffa had a substantial secret interest. Repayment of these debts enabled Sun Valley to extricate itself from reorganization proceedings under Chapter X of the Bankruptcy Act. Included among the Sun Valley debts that the diverted proceeds assisted in repaying was $400,000 owed by Sun Valley to a Florida bank. Repayment of this Sun Valley debt enabled Hoffa to withdraw from the Florida bank $400,000 of Teamster money which Hoffa had deposited in a non-interestbearing account at the bank as security for the bank's $400,000 loan to Sun Valley.

Separate counts of the indictment contained allegations of the mailings, telegrams and telephone calls by which the alleged scheme was furthered. The indictment concluded by charging that all of the defendants conspired together to devise and carry out the scheme.

At the trial, the Government presented testimony and documentary evidence tending to prove the charges made in the indictment. As often happens, where a number of defendants are charged and convicted of participating in a conspiracy, counsel for appellants will present their arguments based largely on testimony favorable to or given by their clients, while completely ignoring other testimony of a contrary nature. They will, perhaps, give lip service to the well-established doctrine and rule that in resolving the issue of sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction, an appellate court must view the evidence and the reasonable inferences which may be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the Government. Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 62 S. Ct. 457, 86 L. Ed. 680; United States v. Mims, 7 Cir., 340 F.2d 851, 852. But, after giving such lip service, the rule often is ignored. We feel that is true in the instant case.

The Government offered proof which was received in evidence as to a number of specific transactions in which various of the defendants were involved. In all of these transactions except No. 1, loans were made by the Teamsters Pension Fund. These transactions were designated as:

1. The Florida Bank-Sun Valley transactions;

2. The Connelly-Everglades transactions;

3. The Strate-Pelican-Fontainebleau transactions;

4. The Hyman-Key West Foundation transactions;

5. The First Berkeley transactions;

6. The Kovens-Sager-Good Samaritan Hospital transactions;

7. The Kipnis-Causeway Inn transactions;

8. The Simon-Airport Hotel transactions;

9. The Strecker-4306 Duncan transactions; and

10. The Dioguardi-Club 300 loan.

Within the limits of this opinion it is not practical to discuss in any detail all of the various transactions hereinbefore listed, nor the part played in each by the various defendants. Therefore, we shall not refer in detail to more than two of these transactions.

The Government offered proof which tended to show that the scheme or conspiracy commenced in 1958 when defendant Hoffa began his efforts to rescue Sun Valley, Inc. from insolvency and thus, so the Government argues, to protect himself from possible charges that he had been misusing Union funds.

Sun Valley, Inc. was a real estate promotion in Florida. It was planned that lots in the Sun Valley project would be sold to members of the Teamsters Union as well as to others. Henry Lower, a former Teamster employee, was the president of Sun Valley. Hoffa promoted Sun Valley lot sales at Teamster meetings and had an option to purchase 45% of the Sun Valley stock. Hoffa also had countersigned $75,000 worth of Sun Valley notes of which a total of $25,000 were outstanding and unpaid. He also owned a number of lots within the project.

After Henry Lower's death, an instrument bearing Hoffa's signature was found in a cookbook in Lower's desk by his son. This document disclosed that Lower held 22 1/2% of Sun Valley stock in secret trust for Hoffa. Although Hoffa denied that it was his signature on the document, handwriting experts at the trial testified that it was genuine.

In 1956, Sun Valley was in need of funds. The property was mortgaged. When Sun Valley applied to the Florida National Bank for loans, the bank insisted that Hoffa's local Union No. 299, at all times, maintain on deposit in the bank, a restricted non-interest-bearing account, in a sum equal to the amount of the Sun Valley borrowings. Hoffa then deposited money belonging to the Union and the bank immediately made loans to Sun Valley equalling the amount of the Union deposits.*fn3

From July 1958 to July 1960, Sun Valley, being unable to meet its bills, was involved in a reorganization proceeding under Chapter X of the Bankruptcy Act. During this period, Sun Valley owed Florida National Bank $399,000 and Hoffa's Detroit Local had $400,000 tied up in the "restricted" account at the bank. On three occasions during 1959, Hoffa tried to withdraw the Detroit Local's $400,000 but the bank would not honor the checks.

Under the heading "The 'Bail-Out' Effort Begins," the Government cites negotiations with one Sanson, and offered proof to show that Sanson, a Florida business man, had a large loan application pending before the Teamsters Pension Fund trustees. In the summer of 1958, Dranow told Sanson that his loan would be put through if Sanson paid a substantial "fee" to him. Sanson agreed to do so, but told Dranow that the "fee" would be paid by check which would contain an explicit reference to the true purpose of the check. Apparently Dranow then lost interest and terminated the conversation.

In July 1958, Dranow and Hoffa jointly called Sanson on the telephone. Hoffa, in Dranow's presence, proposed that if Sanson would "straighten out" Sun Valley, Sanson's pending Pension Fund loan application would be granted. Hoffa suggested to Sanson that he (Sanson) would be able to obtain additional Pension Fund loans for the Sun Valley project. Hoffa said "that this was a must proposition for him, that it was something that had to be done. * * *"

Dranow and his financial agent, defendant Weinblatt, met with Sanson,*fn4 but Sanson turned down Hoffa's proposal.*fn5 The Pension Fund rejected Sanson's loan application.

In September 1958, defendant George Burris incorporated Union Land and Home Company for the purpose of rescuing Sun Valley. Burris was acting as a "front" for Dranow, and Hoffa knew of Dranow's concealed interest in the Company. Hoffa and Burris agreed that Union Land and Home Company would pay off a promissory note which Hoffa had cosigned for Sun Valley, and reimburse the Teamsters Detroit Local for the interest which the Local had lost as a result of having its $400,000 tied up in the "restricted account." In exchange, Hoffa agreed to give up his Sun Valley stock option. No mention was made of Hoffa's secret agreement with Lower.

THE CONNELLY-EVERGLADES TRANSACTIONS

One Vaughan Connelly owned the Everglades Hotel in Miami. He sought a Pension Fund loan to finance renovation of the hotel by defendant Kovens, a Miami contractor. Kovens said he would bring in a man "who could secure the loan with the Teamsters * * * a little man * * * who always seemed to be able to deliver the goods." He brought in Dranow, introducing him as "Grossman." Dranow, in turn, brought in Burris and introduced him as an accountant for the Pension Fund who "handled all his Teamster loan applications."

During August and September 1958, Connelly discussed the proposed loan with Kovens, Dranow and Burris. The latter helped prepare the loan application. Dranow asked a $300,000 fee for procuring a $3,300,000 loan. Connelly agreed.

In January 1959, the Pension Fund trustees, including Hoffa, granted the loan, and Connelly received his first million dollar draw. Dranow and Kovens told Connelly the fee would have to be paid "under the table" in "small bills" and at once. Reference was made to the fact that "Hoffa was raising hell, * * *." Dranow then got excited and told Connelly he hoped the latter would not be harmed. "These boys play rough", said Kovens.

The following day, Connelly took $100,000 in small bills to Kovens and Dranow. The inference is strong that these bills were from the proceeds of the Pension Fund loan. Kovens burned the money wrappers. Dranow stuffed the cash into a bag and left to go "to Washington to deliver the money to the Boss."*fn6

Throughout the spring of 1959, Connelly made additional "fee" payments to Kovens and Dranow. In May 1959, Dranow told Connelly "to keep out of sight" because the McClellan Committee investigators were in Miami "trying to link up Dranow and * * * pension loans with the Teamsters and with Mr. Hoffa." Kovens suggested that Connelly leave the country, but Connelly refused to do so.

However, when Committee investigators interviewed him, Connelly denied that he had made pay-offs for his Pension Fund loan. Connelly told Kovens, Burris and Dranow that he had lied to the investigators. Dranow said Connelly "had stood up for Mr. Hoffa." Later, Hoffa, referring to Connelly's denial, told Connelly that it was "a fine statement."

By late spring of 1959, Connelly was again short of funds. Dranow told him he could get him another million dollars from the Pension Fund "but it was going to cost * * * more money than the other one. * * *"

Dranow and Burris helped Connelly on his second loan application. A loan to Connelly of $1,000,000 was approved on Hoffa's motion subject to certain conditions which had not been fulfilled. At the end of a regular meeting of the Pension Fund trustees, Hoffa called what the Government has characterized as a "rump session of the Pension Fund trustees" and told them "Connelly has got to have his check today." Thereupon, Connelly got his million dollar check.

By January 1960, Connelly was once more short of money. He discussed his inability to pay his debts with Hoffa and Dranow. Connelly prepared a letter requesting a Pension Fund moratorium on all of his loan payments. Hoffa told him to make the letter stronger and get it to the Fund prior to its March 15th meeting. Hoffa told Connelly to stay away from the meeting saying "I'll call you if I need you." At the March 15th meeting, on Hoffa's motion, the Fund trustees voted for the moratorium.

In April 1960, Connelly appearing before a federal grand jury investigating Sun Valley and Pension Fund pay-offs, denied making any pay-offs in connection with his loans. Later, he told Dranow that he had lied to the grand jury. Two months later, the Pension Fund foreclosed its mortgages on Connelly's hotel.

The evidence disclosed that Connelly had paid almost $400,000 in "fees" in connection with his loans and proof was made, which the jury was entitled to believe, that $15,000 of this money went into what the Government called "the Sun Valley bail out."

STRATE-PELICAN-FONTAINE-BLEAU TRANSACTIONS

Defendant Strate was one of the principal owners of the Pelican Corporation which was constructing the Fontaine-bleau Hotel in New Orleans. Difficulties in financing were encountered as the building was being erected on leased land. The Pension Fund twice had rejected applications, Hoffa explaining "We cannot see the leased land."

In April 1959, representatives of Strate contacted Kovens who referred them to Dranow who later instructed them to provide $175,000 in "small bills and old money" in a safety deposit box.*fn7 This was done. Dranow promised to deliver a $1,350,000 Pension Fund loan for a "fee" of only $155,000. Strate and his partners agreed to the terms.

On June 6, 1959, Strate applied to the Pension Fund for the loan. He appeared before the Board of Trustees, being introduced by defendant Hoffa who made no mention of the "leased land" problem. In July, the Board approved the $1,350,000 loan. Within a month, Strate delivered $155,000 "in old small bills" to Dranow. This "fee" was funded by the proceeds from the Pension Fund loan.

In October 1959, Strate applied for a $2,325,000 Pension Fund loan "to build an addition to" the Fontainebleau. During these negotiations, Strate made a number of misrepresentations to the Pension Fund Board.

Between March 1960 and November 1961, Pelican received $3,350,000 in Pension Fund construction loan proceeds but only about $3,104,000 was used on the new construction. Over $200,000 was used by Strate for stock purchases, repayment of loans and payments to himself. The Government offered evidence to support its claim that almost $50,000 can be traced through Dranow and Weinblatt into "the Sun Valley bail out."

WAS THE EVIDENCE SUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH THE CONSPIRACY AND THE CONNECTION OF EACH DEFENDANT WITH IT?

The Government had the burden to prove that the defendants conspired to and did devise a scheme to defraud the Pension Fund by submitting false and fraudulent representations and concealing material facts from the Pension Fund trustees and staff in order to obtain Pension Fund loans. It also had the burden of showing that defendants used the mail and wire services in aiding the execution of the scheme.

The burden also rested on the Government to demonstrate that the central object of the conspiracy was to obtain money for the purpose of "bailing out" Sun Valley, and that each defendant had knowledge of the conspiracy and scheme. United States v. Falcone, 311 U.S. 205, 61 S. Ct. 204, 85 L. Ed. 128; Direct Sales Co. v. United States, 319 U.S. 703, 711, 63 S. Ct. 1265, 87 L. Ed. 1674.

Each defendant strongly insists that the evidence did not establish the existence of such a scheme and further argues that even conceding the existence of such a scheme or conspiracy, the evidence did not connect him with it.

Although the Government was required to establish one conspiracy rather than a series of separate conspiracies, Kotteakos v. United Staces, 328 U.S. 750, 66 S. Ct. 1239, 90 L. Ed. 1557, the fact that a conspiracy's various members may play different roles in executing it, and have dissimilar motives for participating in it, does not mean that a single conspiracy does not exist.

We hold the proof in this case was sufficient for the jury to find that a single conspiracy did exist and that each defendant was a knowing member of it; that Hoffa's primary concern when the conspiracy was formed and the central purpose of the conspiracy and scheme was to "bail out" Sun Valley. Further, that Dranow, Kovens and Burris knowingly assisted Hoffa in this effort which resulted not only in the rescue of the Sun Valley project, but also in their receipt of cash payments and other emoluments.

Strate and Hyman were borrowers whose object in joining the scheme was to get large loans for their projects. Kovens, in the Good Samaritan transactions, and Burris in the First Berkeley transactions, would also fit into the borrower category. It seems clear that the borrowers' need for large loans was so great that they were willing to pay the price of joining the conspiracy. Applicable is the statement in Blumenthal v. United States, 332 U.S. 539, 559, 68 S. Ct. 248, 257, 92 L. Ed. 154, that all the defendants "* * * knew of and joined in the overriding scheme" and that "All by reason of their knowledge of the plan's general scope, if not its exact limits, sought a common end * * *."

To find defendant Hoffa guilty, it was not necessary for the Government to prove that he knew every detail of the arrangement between Dranow, Burris, Kovens and the borrowers. It also was unnecessary for the Government to prove that the borrowers knew the details of other loans placed through Hoffa for the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding that all had a stake in the common venture.

Defendant Hoffa urges that the Pension Fund did not actually lose money on the loans involved in this case. However, due to the long term nature of the loans and the fact that subsequent loans were made to refinance earlier loans, it was impossible to ascertain with certainty whether or not a loss occurred. In any event, it is well established that actual loss is not an essential element of the crime. United States v. Sylvanus, 7 Cir., 192 F.2d 96, 106.

The Fontainebleau Hotel loans illustrate the defendants' involvement in procuring otherwise doubtful Pension Fund loans for applicants who were willing to pay the price, and also demonstrate how loans were granted which, undoubtedly, would not have been made if all the actual facts had been known.

Strate and his group had twice failed to obtain loans from the Pension Fund due to the fact that their hotel was being built on leased land. However, when Dranow and Burris intervened, and Dranow was promised a fee of $155,000, the loan was approved.

A second loan of $2,235,000 was made to Strate and his group for additional construction on the Fontainebleau Hotel. The Government offered proof to show that during the negotiations for that loan, Strate made false representations to the Pension Fund trustees regarding past and future expenses and the presence of the requisite owner's equity.

The Government also proved that defendant Hoffa called the Pension Fund appraiser and informed him that although the owner's equity requirement had not yet been met for the above loan, the applicants would be able to meet it within sixty days. Seventeen days later, the Pension Fund issued its letter of commitment granting the full $2,350,000 loan.

The type of misrepresentation found in connection with the granting of the Fontainebleau loan is illustrative of those made in connection with other loans in this case.

Defendant Hoffa argues that his interest in helping Sun Valley was motivated only by his desire to help the Teamsters, but the jury apparently was unimpressed by his protestations of good faith. It was entitled to believe the testimony that Hoffa considered the "bail out" of Sun Valley, a "must proposition." From the evidence submitted, it undoubtedly rejected Hoffa's proffered motive and concluded that Hoffa's interest in "bailing out" Sun Valley was generated by other considerations.

One of these considerations was Hoffa's financial interest in Sun Valley discussed above. Another and perhaps far more important one which the jury could have considered, was Hoffa's use of $400,000 of Teamster money to secure Sun Valley's financial position. The jury could have concluded that in light of the McClellan Committee investigation, Hoffa was most anxious to get this money out of the Florida bank and return it to the Union Local. This conclusion may have been further buttressed by the testimony that Hoffa had congratulated Connelly for lying to the McClellan Committee about the Pension Fund loan pay-offs.

Finally, Hoffa's claim of good faith interest in Sun Valley runs afoul of the fact that his secret connection with Sun Valley could properly be regarded as a violation of his fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries of the Teamster Pension Fund.

Dranow's connection with the scheme is clearly evident. He took an active part in the conspiracy at every step. He was active in placing all the larger loans. He succeeded in obtaining substantial amounts of money for himself and his claim that he sought only legitimate finders' fees apparently did not ring true to the jury. His insistence on his fees from Connelly and Strate being paid in "small old bills" and having Connelly falsify to the McClellan Committee as to the Everglades loan, all belie his claimed innocence.

It is not necessary to discuss Dranow's attack on the substantive mail counts, as his conviction on the conspiracy count sustains the sentence imposed on him. Lawn v. United States, 355 U.S. 339, 359, 78 S. Ct. 311, 2 L. Ed. 2d 321.

Defendant Burris argues he was also merely engaged in the legitimate business of obtaining finders' fees for placing loans. However, the evidence discloses that Burris was involved far beyond an interest in legitimate finders' fees. Dranow introduced Burris to Connelly as the accountant who handled all of his Teamster loan applications. The jury was entitled to believe that Burris was a co-conspirator who had an active part in obtaining fraudulent loans from the Pension Fund, using the proceeds of inflated loans to help extricate Sun Valley as well as to make a profit for himself. Burris took an active part in the Everglades loans to Connelly and the Key West loan to Hyman. Furthermore, Burris became the accountant for the Strate Fontainebleau group at the time they were applying for a second loan.

Defendant Kovens was not involved in all of the transactions proved. However, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that he was a knowing member of the conspiracy and scheme to defraud the Pension Fund.

As early as July 1958, Kovens brought up the possibility of Connelly taking over Sun Valley. He later introduced Connelly to Dranow whom he called "Grossman," as an individual who could secure Pension Fund loans. It was also Kovens who suggested to Connelly that he leave the country until the McClellan Committee investigators left town.

In addition, the Government offered proof of misrepresentations made by Kovens to the Pension Fund trustees in connection with the Good Samaritan Hospital loans, and showed that it was Kovens who brought Dranow into the Strate Fontainebleau Hotel transactions.

We find that the evidence would have warranted the jury in concluding that Kovens was involved in the conspiracy and scheme in numerous other respects.

Undoubtedly, defendant Hyman was principally interested in obtaining loans for his various business projects. However, we find that from the evidence, the jury could have concluded that Hyman was a member of the conspiracy, finding that he knew the price of obtaining a Pension Fund loan through Dranow and Burris was a finders' fee that would help Dranow and others to extricate Sun Valley.

Hyman admitted investing $100,000 in Union Land and Home Company, the company formed for the purpose of "bailing out" Sun Valley. He also advanced $50,000 to pay creditors of Sun Valley in May 1960. Evidence was offered to show that he was repaid for this advance out of the proceeds of a $400,000 Pension Fund loan. The application for this loan was made in the same month that Hyman made his advance to pay Sun Valley creditors.

The timing of the advance and the loan application is curiously coincidental. When the fact is added that Hoffa supported the loan with false statements, the inference readily appears that the granting of the loan was not on its merits, but as the result of a conspiratorial agreement.

The role of defendant Strate has been discussed above in connection with the Fontainebleau loans. The fact that he and his group had been unable to secure a Pension Fund loan until Kovens brought Dranow into the picture and agreed to pay the latter a finder's fee of $155,000 is significant. The loan went through on Hoffa's motion and Dranow notified the Strate group that the loan had been approved before it received formal notification. Considering all this, the jury could well have concluded that the loan was not made on the merits but as a result of the conspiracy.

Weinblatt was a lesser member of the conspiracy. He was Dranow's agent and his nominee of a number of bank accounts. He acted as such because Dranow wanted his own interest in these accounts concealed from investigators. The District Judge imposed a sentence of one hour in custody and a fine of $5,000. Although Weinblatt was not of great importance in the scheme, the jury did have a basis for holding that he was knowingly implicated in the conspiracy.

QUESTION OF SEVERANCE

A number of defendants claim error because their motion for a severance was denied. However, as they were all part of one conspiracy, it was proper to try them together. Blumenthal v. United States, 332 U.S. 539, 68 S. Ct. 248, 92 L. Ed. 154; Schaffer v. United States, 362 U.S. 511, 514, 80 S. Ct. 945, 4 L. Ed. 2d 921.

Hoffa and Kovens complain that it was prejudicial for them to have been tried with Dranow because the personality of the latter would naturally antagonize a jury. We do not think that this complaint amounts to error in view of the extremely close ...


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