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United States v. Nasse

July 31, 1970


Fairchild and Kerner, Circuit Judges, and Eschbach, District Judge.*fn1

Author: Fairchild

FAIRCHILD, Circuit Judge.

This case concerns transactions in which automobiles were stolen, their identifying numbers altered, spurious state title documents created, and the automobiles sold in different states.

The indictment contains 30 counts. Count 1 charges a conspiracy among thirteen defendants and others. Each other count charges one or more defendants with interstate transportation of a particular stolen automobile. Five pairs of counts each relate to one automobile, but each of the pair charges a separate transportation of that automobile.

Ten defendants were involved in the trial now under consideration. The charges against Cobb, Wright, and Abraham had been severed, and these men were government witnesses. Four of those tried were acquitted, Geidens on motion at the close of the evidence, and Peter Nasse, McGurk, and Nash, by the jury.

The verdicts as to the remaining six, now appellants, were as follows: Herman David had been charged in the conspiracy count and in one transaction count for each of the automobiles involved except one. He was found guilty on counts 1 through 20, 24, and 28; not guilty on counts 22 and 23. Herman's sons, Robert (Bob) and Orland (Joe), had been charged in the conspiracy count and transaction counts 2 through 16. They were found guilty on count 1 and counts 8 through 16, but not guilty on counts 2 through 7. Joseph Iatarola had been charged in the conspiracy count and five transaction counts. He was found guilty on count 1 and counts 25, 26, 27, and 30, and not guilty on count 29. Albert Tocco had been charged in the conspiracy count and count 21. He was found guilty on both. George Nasse had been charged only in the conspiracy count, and was found guilty.

Count 1 charged a conspiracy knowingly to transport stolen motor vehicles in interstate commerce, to receive, conceal, store, barter, sell and dispose of such stolen motor vehicles, and knowingly to transport counterfeit securities (the spurious state titles) in interstate commerce. The conspiracy was said to include stealing motor vehicles, stealing serial plates from other motor vehicles and attaching them to the stolen vehicles, altering the identification numbers on the frames of the stolen ones so as to agree, preparing counterfeit state titles for use in selling and retitling the vehicles, and transporting the stolen vehicles to other states for sale. The conspiracy was alleged to have existed from April, 1962 to November, 1965, when the indictment was returned.

The evidence fully established the pattern described, and Herman David as the central figure, supervising the transactions and creating the spurious titles.

Counts 2 through 7 relate to automobiles stolen in Illinois from April 14, 1962 to September 11, 1962. These cars have been referred to as the Nasse cars, since in each case George Nasse, of Youngstown, Ohio, obtained an Ohio title before selling the car. Counts 8 through 12 relate to automobiles stolen in Illinois from September 16, 1962 to December 20, 1962. These cars were sold in California, and have been referred to as the Scarcelli cars, from the name of the dealer who took them to that state.

Counts 13 through 16 relate to automobiles stolen in Illinois or Indiana from September 3, 1963 to November 29, 1963. These cars were sold in Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and have been referred to as the Lasky cars (so named from a conspirator who was a witness). Count 17 relates to an automobile stolen in Illinois December 26, 1963 and sold in Indiana. It is referred to as the Wright car. Counts 18 & 25, 19, 20 & 30, 22 & 26, 23, 24 & 27, and 28 & 29 relate to cars stolen in Illinois from February 1, 1964 to February 1, 1965 and titled in other states. They have been referred to as the Iatarola cars. Count 21 refers to a car stolen June 5, 1964 in Indiana and sold in Illinois. It is referred to as the Tocco car.

Herman David concedes the sufficiency of the evidence, but contends on appeal that much of it was derived from unlawful search. There can be no real question of the sufficiency of the evidence as to each transaction count upon which any defendant was convicted. The defendants other than Herman make various claims, including the claim that the government failed to prove the conspiracy charged and that they were prejudiced by a joint trial of the other charges, and the consideration by the jury of the statements and acts of their co-defendants as co-conspirators.


Defendants allege that the evidence showed no more than a number of separate conspiracies in which Herman was one of the conspirators. They rely on Kotteakos v. United States.*fn2

Here, unlike Kotteakos, the defendants knew that illegal acts on the part of a chain of participants -- thieves, counterfeiters, camouflagers, people to transport the stolen autos, and salesmen -- were necessary to the total operation. As stated in Blumenthal v. United States.*fn3

"The scheme was in fact the same scheme; the salesmen knew or must have known that others unknown to them were sharing in so large a project; and it hardly can be sufficient to relieve them that they did not know, when they joined the scheme, who those people were or exactly the parts they were playing in carrying out the common design and object of all. By their separate agreements, if such they were, they became parties to the larger common plan, joined together by their knowledge of its essential features and broad scope, though not of its exact limits, and by their common single goal.

"All by reason of their knowledge of the plan's general scope, if not its exact limits, sought a common end, to aid in disposing of the whiskey. True, each salesman aided in selling only his part. But he knew the lot to be sold was larger and thus that he was aiding in a larger plan."*fn4

It is true that the participants other than Herman (and perhaps his sons) changed from time to time. Some were shown to have been added and some withdrew, but the participation of some overlapped the participation of others. We deem it reasonable to consider the operations as those of a going concern, understood by all to be so, with changes in personnel, rather than as separate transactions or groups of transactions.

As stated in United States v. Varelli:*fn5

"While the parties to the agreement must know of each other's existence, they need not know each other's identity nor need there be direct contact. The agreement may continue for a long period of time and include the performance of many transactions. New parties may join the agreement at any time while others may terminate their relationship. The parties are not always identical, but this does not mean that there are separate conspiracies. See Developments in the Law -- Criminal Conspiracy, 72 Harv.L.Rev. 920, 922-35 (1959).*fn6


(1) Nasse was not charged in any transaction count, and claims that the evidence was insufficient to show that he was a member of the conspiracy. It is the government theory that his conduct shows he had an agreement with other participants to receive and dispose of the stolen cars.

Nasse is a used car dealer in Youngstown, Ohio. In 1962 he sold a number of used cars at an auction in Pennsylvania. Six of them were the stolen cars involved in counts 2 through 7 and another was a stolen car not involved in any transaction count. Nasse obtained Ohio titles for each before selling it. In each instance he presented a spurious Illinois or Indiana title which named as owner some automobile dealer who in fact never owned a car of that description. The three Illinois titles were purportedly notarized by the same notary, but the signatures were not genuine and the real notary's notary public stamp had disappeared before these titles were notarized. Three of the four Indiana titles were purportedly notarized by the same notary and the fourth by a different one, but neither notary had ever been commissioned in Indiana.

The cars were a Thunderbird, stolen April 14 and titled by Nasse April 16; a Cadillac stolen May 4 and titled May 15; a Cadillac stolen May 16 or 17 and titled May 23; a Cadillac stolen August 8 and titled August 15; a Cadillac stolen September 7 and titled September 14; a Cadillac stolen September 11 and titled September 18; and a Cadillac stolen September 6 and titled September 18. Illinois titles were presented for the cars stolen April 14, May 4, and May 17; Indiana titles for those stolen August 8, September 7, September 11, and September 6. When ultimately recovered, each car bore a serial plate which had been removed from some other car, as did all the cars involved in the other transaction counts.

There was opinion testimony that the Indiana titles used by Nasse came from the same source as the Indiana titles used in re-titling the cars involved in counts 18 & 25, 19, 20 & 30, 24 & 27, and 28 & 29 (Iatarola) and in count 21 (Tocco). There was opinion testimony that false numbers on the cars stolen May 4 and 17 were made with the same stamp as those on cars involved in counts 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 (Scarcelli). There was sufficient evidence linking the false titles with Herman.

Thus there was ample evidence that these seven cars received, titled, and sold by Nasse had in fact passed through the hands of Herman David and other conspirators. We think also that the circumstances, particularly including the short period of time in each case between the theft and the handling by Nasse, and the repetition of the pattern seven times in five months, demonstrates a sufficient probability that Nasse was a knowing and willing participant in the scheme so that in the absence of a satisfactory explanation an inference may properly be drawn accordingly.

Nasse did not testify. He was arrested in September, 1962, by Ohio officers because of his possession of a stolen automobile and there is no proof that he was active in the conspiracy after that date. In February and March 1963 he was interviewed by FBI agent Davis about 23 cars which were found to have been stolen and which Nasse had sold at car auctions. Nasse was not in custody and voluntarily came to the office where he was interviewed. Nasse told the agent he obtained these cars from an individual he knew only as Stan; that he had met Stan casually in November, 1961 at an auction; Stan showed up in March, 1962 at Nasse's place of business with a Cadillac to sell; Nasse bought and Stan came back a number of times between March and September; Stan furnished Illinois or Indiana titles; Nasse never knew Stan's last name nor how to get in touch with him; Nasse would take Stan to the bank, make out a check to cash, cash it and give Stan the proceeds; Nasse paid from $3500 to $4500 for each car and made a profit of only $50 to $150 on each car.

We think the jury was entitled to consider this narrative, as it evidently did, a fairy tale, and that Nasse's telling it strengthened rather than weakened the proof against him.

(2) The court instructed the jury, in substance, that possession of property recently stolen, if not satisfactorily explained, is ordinarily a circumstance from which the jury may reasonably draw the inference and find in the light of surrounding circumstances shown by the evidence that the person in possession knew the property had been stolen; and further instructed that it was the exclusive province of the jury to determine whether the facts and circumstances shown by the evidence warrant such inference.

Defendant appears to rely on cases dealing with presumptions rather than permissible inferences. We see no error in the instruction.*fn7

(3) Nasse was arrested September 27, 1962, and the court instructed the jury that statements or acts of the alleged conspirators after that date should not be considered against Nasse.

Two government witnesses testified to conversations with Herman in which he said that a lot of cars had been sold to "dealers in Ohio" until these dealers were arrested with hot cars. These conversations occurred after September, 1962. Herman did not name or otherwise identify the dealers, but, since Nasse was a dealer in Ohio and had been arrested, the statements attributed to Herman were consistent with, and to some degree corroborative of, the other evidence against Nasse. Herman did not testify.

Nasse sees here an application of the Bruton principle that admission of a statement of one defendant, inculpating another, violates the latter's right of confrontation if the former does not take the stand, and prejudice is not avoided by a limiting instruction.*fn8 We note that Herman's statements were not made under circumstances where Herman was trying to shift or share the blame, a factor mentioned in Bruton. Their effect on Nasse's case was not "powerfully incriminating", nor "devastating."*fn9

But assuming applicability of Bruton to the extent of any discernible corroborative effect, we are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, that the jury would have reached the same verdict even if these two statements, and one other ...

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