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United States v. Lewis

January 29, 1969

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MILTON W. LEWIS AND LEE ROY SOHN, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Kiley, Cummings and Kerner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cummings

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

In August 1966, a six-count indictment was returned against Lee Roy Sohn, Milton W. Lewis, and Jerry Pace.*fn1 The first count charged defendants with a conspiracy to defraud the United States concerning its right to have the transaction of the business of the Veterans' Administration "conducted free from deceit, fraud, craft, trickery, dishonesty, unlawful impairment and obstruction," in violation of Section 371 of the Criminal Code (18 U.S.C. § 371). The indictment also contained five substantive counts alleging that various defendants had violated Section 289 of the Criminal Code (18 U.S.C. § 289).

After a jury trial, each defendant was found guilty with respect to all counts in which he was charged. General sentences of one year each were imposed on defendants Sohn and Lewis, together with fines. Defendant Pace was fined and sentenced to a probationary term of two years, with the first 30 days to be spent "in a jail-type institution." Pace has not appealed.

Sufficiency of the Indictment

Defendants do not attack the conspiracy count of the indictment, which charges them under 18 U.S.C. § 371, punishing conspiracy "to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof * * *."

The substantive counts charge violations of 18 U.S.C. § 289, which provides in pertinent part:

"Whoever knowingly and willfully makes, or presents any false, fictitious or fraudulent affidavit, declaration, certificate, voucher, endorsement, or paper or writing purporting to be such, concerning any claim for pension or payment thereof, or pertaining to any other matter within the jurisdiction of the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs * * *."

Citing Sanchez v. United States, 134 F.2d 279, 282-283 (1st Cir. 1943), certiorari denied sub nom. Tapia v. United States, 319 U.S. 768, 63 S. Ct. 1325, 87 L. Ed. 1717, and other cases, defendants contend that this statute relates only to the subject of pension claims. The Sanchez case followed the Supreme Court's construction of an earlier version of this statute in United States v. Keitel, 211 U.S. 370, 395-397, 29 S. Ct. 123, 53 L. Ed. 230. In the light of the breadth of the language of the statute, the Keitel and Sanchez cases seem restrictive in limiting it to pension claims. But we do not need to construe Section 289 here, for defendants concede that the substantive counts of this indictment properly state an offense under Section 1001 of the Criminal Code (18 U.S.C. § 1001), which provides in pertinent part:

"Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry, shall be fined * * * or imprisoned * * * or both."

Sufficiency of the Evidence

Count I of the indictment is the conspiracy count and charged that defendants Lewis, Sohn and Jerry Pace conspired with three non-defendant co-conspirators*fn2 to defraud the United States concerning its right to have the Veterans' Administration official business conducted free from deceit and the like. In 1961 Lewis and Sohn organized Milroy Realty Company, and, after becoming licensed Veterans' Administration brokers, they operated the company as a Veterans' Administration-approved realty company selling repossessed houses owned by the Veterans' Administration. Pace was a salesman for Milroy. To secure approval of sales of these homes to their customers, the defendants purportedly submitted false credit information to the Veterans' Administration concerning prospective purchasers upon VA Form No. 26-6705 for "Credit Statement and Offer of Prospective Purchaser." As part of the conspiracy, they allegedly obtained false credit reports from Hill's Reports, Inc. to substantiate the credit information contained on the VA forms. Eleven overt acts, including transactions with prospective customers similar to those alleged in the substantive counts, were alleged in furtherance of the conspiracy.

We conclude that there was ample testimony to prove the conspiracy charged in Count I. Much of the supporting evidence is summarized below under Counts II through IV. The falsified Veterans' Administration forms were always signed by Sohn or Lewis. Sohn himself placed false information on these statements. In the instance covered by overt act 5, prospective purchaser William Rodriguez gave correct credit information to both defendants and Lewis signed the falsified application that was filed with the Veterans' Administration. Similarly, the credit statement filed on behalf of Meddie Dampier, Jr., falsely represented that the applicant had no debts and overstated the value of some assets and listed non-existent assets, all in contradiction to the information which the applicant had supplied to Sohn. Both defendants arranged with Hill's Reports for the speedy delivery of unchecked credit information. Through the falsified transactions, their creature, Milroy Realty Company, was enabled to receive commissions from the Veterans' Administration. We are satisfied that there was more than sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict that these two defendants engaged in the conspiracy charged, even though some of the eleven overt acts might not have involved them sufficiently to constitute separate substantive offenses.*fn3

Count II charged that in September 1962, defendants Lewis and Sohn presented to the Veterans' Administration a Credit Statement and Offer of Prospective Purchaser form signed by Theodore R. Gardner falsely representing that Gardner had no financial obligations. Like the remaining four Counts of the indictment, this was said to violate Section 289 of the Criminal Code, but defendants concede that these five Counts adequately charge a violation of Section 1001 of the Criminal Code.*fn4 In support of Count II, the Government introduced in evidence Milroy Realty Company's invoice, signed by Sohn, to the Veterans' Administration for $825 commission on the sale of a repossessed house to Gardner, as well as a Hill's Report showing Gardner's net worth to be $6100. The Government also introduced the Credit Statement and Offer of ...


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