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United States v. Neapolitan

May 16, 1986


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 84 CR 555 - Paul E. Plunkett, Judge. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 84 CR 556 - Prentice H. Marshall, Judge.

Author: Flaum

Before WOOD, POSNER, and FLAUM, Circuit Judges.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

These two unrelated cases have been united because they arise out of similar factual settings, auto theft rings in the Chicago area, and because they both pose the question of the scope of a conspiracy to violate the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). Through these appeals we become the latest in a string of circuits to struggle with what degree of relationship between the defendant and the alleged predicate criminal acts is sufficient to support a conviction for RICO conspiracy under § 1962(d). Based on the literal approach to RICO interpretation adopted by this circuit in Haroco v. American National Bank & Trust Co of Chicago, 747 F.2d 384 (7th Cir. 1984), aff'd, 473 U.S. 606, 105 S. Ct. 3291, 87 L. Ed. 2d 437 (1985), we hold that a defendant violates section 1962(d) when he or she enters into an agreement with knowledge that the goal of the conspiracy is the commission of a RICO violation, that is to "conduct or participate in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity." Pursuant to his interpretation the convictions in these two cases are affirmed. Nevertheless it is important to emphasize the differences between RICO conspiracy and conspiracy prohibited by 18 U.S.C. § 371 and the special burden RICO conspiracy imposes on both the crafting of indictments and the conducting of trials.


The convictions in these two cases stem from the widespread practice of stealing cars, breaking them down to their component parts, and selling the auto parts in interstate commerce. See 18 U.S.C. § 2314. What distinguishes the cases from each other factually is the relationship of the defendants to the central crime of auto theft: Neapolitan involves police officers protecting the auto ring, while Covello involves the central figures in a separate "chop shop" operation.

The Conviction of Robert Neapolitan

Robert Neapolitan, along with his two co-defendants, Robert Cadieux and Ronald Sapit, was employed as an investigator for the Cook County Sheriff's Police Department until his indictment in 1984 on five counts of mail fraud and one count of racketeering conspiracy. The indictment, in conjunction with the evidence in which Officers Cadieux and Sapit at once encouraged know car thieves to supply them with automobiles and establish a "chop shop," while also soliciting bribes in the form of auto parts and cash in exchange for police protection. The evidence linking Neapolitan to the scheme shows that he entered the arrangement after its establishment and that his involvement was limited.

Neapolitan was named in four of the five alleged acts of mail fraud but was acquitted of all the mail fraud counts by the district judge. Neapolitan then went to trial as the sole defendant charged only with the RICO conspiracy - both Sapit and Cadieux pleaded guilty earlier. The government's theory under section 1962(d) can be summarized briefly. Sapit, Cadieux, and Neapolitan were alleged to have conspired to conduct the affairs of the sheriff's office, the RICO "enterprise for purposes of this case, see 18 U.S.C. § 1961(4), through a pattern of racketeering activity. The predicate acts constituting the pattern under 18 U.S.C. § 1961(5) were the four alleged acts of mail fraud and eleven specified acts of bribery in violation of Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 38, § 33-1(d), (e). Of the listed acts of bribery, Neapolitan was identified as having been involved in only one. thus, with the dismissal of the mail fraud counts against him, Neapolitan's involvement in the conspiracy, as it is sketched in the indictment, is limited to the solicitation of one cash bribe.

At trial the government presented evidence concerning the activities of all three of the indicted police officers, including evidence of Neapolitan's alleged participation in the "fixing" of a pending case, in Cadieux's attempt to sell the front end of a 1980 Cadillac El Dorado, and in the process of obtaining a new "clean" title for a 1977 Ford pick-up truck. The jury found Neapolitan guilty of a RICO conspiracy and he was sentenced to a period of one year incarceration.

The Convictions of Covello, Mascio, Hlavach, Turner, Meadows, and Messino.

Defendants Thomas Covello, Sr., Ralph Mascio, Jr., Joseph W. Hlavach, Antoine A. Turner, Victor Meadows, and Clement A. Messino were all alleged to have been involved in varying degrees in a large scale "chop shop" operation centered around two salvage yards in Chicago, Ashland Auto Wreckers and M & J Auto Wreckers.*fn1 The grand jury returned an eight-count indictment that charged the defendants with seven counts of interstate transportation of stolen goods in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2314 and one count of RICO conspiracy. According to the indictment and the government's briefs on appeal, the evidence, acquired after a prolonged surveillance, established that all the defendants were members of a " de facto " RICO enterprise dedicated to the "processing" of stolen cars. The operations of this auto ring qua enterprise encompassed all aspects of the "chop shop" business.

The hub of the alleged operations was the two salvage yards owned by defendants Covello and Mascio. From these supposedly legitimate businesses Covello and Mascio directed the theft of particular models of cars in order to supply the years with a constant supply of parts. According to the government, defendant Messino often arranged the theft of specific automobiles through a large cadre of auto thieves, including defendants Meadows, Hlavach, and Turner. The cars would generally be stripped prior to any actual contact with the yards, although it is claimed that at times Covello and Mascio purchased stolen cars directly and had them disassembled at the yards. Both Meadows and Hlavach are alleged to have been involved in the disassembly of automobiles on a sporadic basis. The thieves and disassembly crews would load the parts destined for the years onto vans, and the drivers of which often included Turner and Meadows, and transport the parts to Covello and Mascio during "non-business" hours.

Once the parts were at the yards, all vehicle identification numbers would be removed or obscured and the parts would be sorted based upon type and, for body parts, color. The thieves and the deliverers would then generally receive a check from the yard made payable to a false name which could be cashed at a pair of currency exchanges hospitable to the operation. In order to cope with the large influx of parts the yards, according to the government, regularly transported parts in trucks frequently driven by Meadows or Turner to a warehouse owned by M & J Auto Wreckers in Schereville, Indiana. These parts were then allegedly sold to salvage yards both within and outside Illinois; the largest purchaser was claimed to Piper Motor Co., Inc. of Bloomfield, Iowa. In accord with their standard practice, the yards would allegedly receive payment in the form of checks issued to fictitious payees that could be cashed at the cooperating currency exchanges.

After a jury trial, all six defendants were found guilty of conspiring to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), the RICO conspiracy count. Of the remaining seven substantive counts relating to the transportation of specific stolen parts, only Covello was convicted of all seven, for which he received concurrent eight year sentences, and five years probation. Maceio was convicted of six counts of interstate transportation of stolen goods and was sentenced to concurrent terms of four years imprisonment followed by five years probation. Meadows was convicted on two substantive counts, in addition to the RICO charge, and received concurrent three year prison terms followed by five years probation. Turner was convicted only of one count of interstate transport; his four year sentence was suspended in favor of five years conditional probation. The jury acquitted Hlavach and Messino on all seven substantive counts. Each received a four year prison sentence on the conspiracy count, although Hlavach's was suspended in favor of five years probation.


The defendants in both these cases were convicted of RICO conspiracy pursuant to jury instructions which required that the jury find that the defendants conspired to violate section 1962(c). It was not necessary that the defendants personally agreed to violate RICO. Thus, the district court did not require that the defendants agreed personally to commit two predicate acts in a context that implicates RICO. It was sufficient for the defendant to join a conspiracy, the goal of which was the conduct of or participation in the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. Neapolitan and those defendants in the Covello case who were acquitted of the non-RICO counts take issue with the district court's characterization of a RICO conspiracy. They contend that section 1962(d) is implicated only when a defendant agrees personally to commit two predicate acts. Furthermore, they argue that even should a broader standard than they proposed be adopted by this court the jury instructions failed to require an "agreement," an element that must be present in any conspiracy charge.

The issues presented in the appeal cannot be easily resolved, and have caused a clear division among the circuit courts that have considered the issue. See Adams v. United States, 474 U.S. 971, 106 S. Ct. 336, 88 L. Ed. 2d 321 (1985) (White, J., joined by Burger, C. J., dissenting from a denial of certiorari in a recent RICO conspiracy case). The First and Second Circuits have taken the position that a section 1962(d) conspiracy to violate section 1962(c) requires an agreement to personally commit two acts of racketeering activity. See United States v. Ruggiero, 726 F.2d 913, 921 (2d Cir.), cert. denied sub nom., Rabito v. United States, 469 U.S. 831, 105 S. Ct. 118, 83 L. Ed. 2d 60 (1984); United States v. Winter, 663 F.2d 1120, 1136 (1st Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1011, 75 L. Ed. 2d 479, 103 S. Ct. 1250 (1983). In contrast, four other circuits require only an agreement that members of the conspiracy will violate section 1962(c) through the commission to two proscribed acts. See United States v. Joseph, 781 F.2d 549, 554 (6th Cir. 1986); United States v. Adams, 759 F.2d 1099, 1116 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 971, 106 S. Ct. 336, 88 L. Ed. 2d 321 (1985); United States v. Tille, 729 F.2d 615, 619 (9th Cir.), cert denied. 469 U.S. 845, 105 S. Ct. 156, 83 L. Ed. 2d 93 (1984); United States v. Carter, 721 F.2d 1514, 1529 (11th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom., Morris v. United States, 469 U.S. 819, 105 S. Ct. 89, 83 L. Ed. 2d 36 (1984). In fact the justice Department itself appears to have not resolved its approach. Compare U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO): A Manual for Federal Prosecutors 72 (1985) ("As of mid-1985, it is the policy of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section that every defendant in a proposed RICO conspiracy count must be shown to have agreed personally to commit tow or more racketeering acts"), with the Department of Justice position in the present case.

Our analysis of section 1962(d) is guided by two rules of RICO construction. First, the Supreme Court has consistently adhered to a broad, literal reading of the statute. "This is a lesson not only of Congress' self-consciously expansive language and overall approach, . . . but also of its express admonition that 'RICO is to be liberally construed to effectuate its remedial purposes,' Pub. L. 91-452, § 904(a), 84 Stat. 947." Sedima, S.P.R.L. v. Imrex Co., 473 U.S. 479, 105 S. Ct. 3275, 3286, 87 L. Ed. 2d 346 (1985). See United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576, 586-87, 69 L. Ed. 2d 246, 101 S. Ct. 2524 (1981). See also Haroco, 747 F.2d at 398 ("[I]n RICO, we confront a statute which is not ambiguous but which is, above all, deliberately and extraordinarily broad."). Second, and in some sense more important, it must be stressed that RICO is a remedial, as opposed to substantive, statute. See Sedima, 105 S. Ct. at 3286-87; Turkette, 452 U.S. at 589. See also The Statement of Findings of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, 84 Stat. 923 (Congressional purpose is "to seek the eradication of organized crime in the United States . . . by establishing new penal prohibitions, and by providing enhanced sanctions and new remedies to deal with the unlawful activities of those engaged in organized crimes."). The provisions of section 1962 do not create "new crimes" but serve as the prerequisites for the invocation of increased sanctions for conduct which is proscribed elsewhere in both federal and state criminal codes. See Blakey & Gettings, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO): Basic Concepts-Criminal and Civil Remedies, 53 Temp. L.Q. 1009, 1021 (1980) ("RICO is not a criminal statute; it does not make criminal conduct that before its enactment was not already prohibited, since its application violates an independent criminal statute. In addition, its standards of unlawful, i.e., criminal or civil conduct are sanctioned by both criminal and civil remedies. RICO, in short, is a 'remedial' statute."). Thus, the use of the term substantive offense that is distinct from any other conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371, is to some extent a misnomer. Section 1962(d), like the section's other provisions, is only applicable when the defendant has violated other laws in a context that implicates RICO.

As an analytical starting point for divining the meaning of this aspect of the RICO statute, the defendants in both cases were charged with conspiring, as proscribed by section 1962(d), which provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any of the provisions of subsections (a), (b), or (c) of this section,

to violate section 1962(c), which provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.

Thus, to borrow a mode of analysis from the Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Carter, 721 F.2d at 1529, these two statutory provisions, when read together, "speak only to 'conspiring to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, i.e., two acts of racketeering activity within at least ten years of each other.'" The task is to decide what this less than pellucid language means. The Carter court held that the natural reading of the statute is that any particular defendant need only agree that he and his co-conspirators will operate an enterprise through the commission of two predicate acts.*fn2

The decision in Carter can be viewed as resting on three basic analytical premises. First, Congress did not explicitly impose through the language of the statute any requirement of agreement personally to commit two predicate acts. Second, the addition of a requirement of an agreement personally to commit the acts would frustrate the Congressional policy of broadening the scope of remedies available to fight organized crime. Finally, RICO was enacted "against the backdrop of hornbook conspiracy law." Carter, 721 F.2d at 1529 (citing United States v. Elliott, 571 F.2d 880, 902 (5th Cir. 1978).*fn3 Under classic conspiracy law, agreeing to the commission of the conspiracy's illegitimate objectives constitutes the crime. The goal of a RICO conspiracy as defined by section 1962(d), is a violation of RICO. The defendant need only agree to a single violation of RICO; he need not agree personally to violate the statute. The Carter analysis has been embraced by the Third Circuit, the Sixth Circuit, and the Ninth Circuit. See United States v. Joseph, 781 F.2d ...

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