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United States v. Hamilton

decided: January 13, 1984.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
PHANUEL J. HAMILTON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 82 CR 570 - Prentice H. Marshall, Judge.

Cummings, Chief Judge, Wood, Circuit Judge, and Grant, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Wood

WOOD, Circuit Judge.

Defendant-appellant Phanuel J. Hamilton and Rita M. Degonia were charged in August 1982 with converting to their own use over $4,000 of federal funds appropriated under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). Count I charged a conspiracy among Degonia, Hamilton, and others, and five subsequent counts charged Degonia*fn1 with substantive violations of 18 U.S.C. § 665(a) for converting CETA funds to her own use and Hamilton with aiding and abetting Degonia to violate § 665(a). Hamilton was found guilty of conspiracy and all but one of the other five counts.*fn2

Hamilton raises four issues on appeal. He questions the sufficiency of the evidence against him. He also claims that his knowledge of a federal interest in the converted funds is a necessary element of the offense but was not proved. Hamilton further questions whether there was in fact any substantial federal interest in the particular funds. Lastly, he claims that the indictment improperly joined offenses and persons in violation of Rule 8, Fed. R. Crim. P. We affirm.

I.

The facts, largely undisputed, reveal a simple scheme to aid Degonia's admitted embezzlement of CETA funds. Between June and September 1980, Degonia was director of an adult training program of the Chicago Metropolitan YMCA, known as the Cottage Industries Training Program (CITP). Under the program, about sixty-four persons received job training at four suburban YMCA locations. The trainees' wages were covered by a reimbursement agreement with the United States Department of Labor; the federal government disbursed CETA funds to the Cook County Office of Manpower which in turn reimbursed its subgrantee, the YMCA, for the CITP payroll expenses. Degonia's responsibilities at CITP included supervision of trainee time sheets and payroll authorizations, which required her to receive the payroll checks and distribute them to the trainees.

For each of several pay periods, Degonia took some of the names of fifteen trainees no longer active in CITP and added them to the payroll. This caused a total of thirty-six unearned wage checks to be prepared and sent to her along with the properly earned checks. She withdrew only the unearned checks from distribution to the trainees and kept them for her own purposes. Degonia enlisted her friend, Hamilton, to help her convert twenty-seven of the fraudulent checks to cash. Hamilton at the time was Director of Individual Services in the Chicago Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens. Degonia delivered the checks to Hamilton at street locations between their two Chicago offices. Hamilton cashed the third-party wage checks drawn on the YMCA payroll account at several locations. On occasion, he claims he cashed the checks using personal cash he had with him. Some of the checks already evidenced fictitious payee endorsements when Hamilton received them. A government handwriting expert testified she was "virtually certain" that other payee endorsements had been added by Hamilton. Most of the check-cashing locations selected by Hamilton did not require his second endorsement. Hamilton returned most of the proceeds from the payroll checks to Degonia, but deposited some of the money in his overdrawn personal bank account.

One detail in the execution of the conspiracy was overlooked: the inactive trainees to whom the fraudulent wage checks were made out received W-2 forms which reflected more wage income than they had received from CITP. The inquiries of these inactive trainees resulted in an internal YMCA investigation which ultimately led to this indictment. In that investigation, Hamilton initially admitted cashing fifteen of the fraudulent checks, but claimed that the payees already had endorsed the checks and that he returned all the proceeds to Degonia. He failed to mention the twelve other checks.

II.

The evidence and the inferences to be drawn therefrom are clearly sufficient to show Hamilton's complicity in the scheme despite his innocent explanation. Hamilton does concede the criminality of Degonia's conduct, but explains that he thought he was only helping the suburban trainees who otherwise might have encountered some inconvenience in cashing their own checks. Among other things, Hamilton's explanation overlooks the handwriting analysis of some of the endorsements and the fact that a portion of the proceeds went into his overdrawn personal account.

In finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the trial judge carefully analyzed all the evidence and noted the fact that Hamilton took possession of and negotiated the fraudulent checks shortly after their issuance. Hamilton seizes upon that one aspect of the finding of guilt to question whether possession of recently issued fraudulent checks properly raises a reasonable inference of guilt under the well-known doctrine of recent possession of stolen goods. The government relies on United States v. Strickland, 509 F.2d 273, 276 (5th Cir. 1975), and our cases, United States v. Bailey, 526 F.2d 139, 141 (7th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 424 U.S. 972, 47 L. Ed. 2d 740, 96 S. Ct. 1472 (1976) (possession of stolen United States savings bonds), and Altom v. United States, 454 F.2d 289, 293-94 (7th Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 406 U.S. 917, 32 L. Ed. 2d 116, 92 S. Ct. 1765 (1973) (possession of stolen government generators), to support application of the doctrine.

We find no error in the trial judge taking into account, along with the other evidence of guilt, the fact that the fraudulent checks all were issued very recently and yet supposedly had already been distributed to the suburban trainees, endorsed by them, and returned to Degonia to give to Hamilton to be cashed. More weight was not given to that factor than it deserved in the context of all the evidence of guilt. The trial judge found that defendant's explanation not only did not aid his defense, but actually was incriminating.

The evidence clearly is sufficient to support Hamilton's conviction for conspiring with Degonia; the two needed each other to execute the scheme from which they both benefited. Further, the evidence is sufficient to satisfy the tests of association and participation to support Hamilton's conviction as an aider ...


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