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United States v. Gilbertson

January 30, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ALLEN K. GILBERTSON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 04-CR-206-S-01-John C. Shabaz, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED DECEMBER 1, 2005

Before EASTERBROOK, RIPPLE, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

Allen Gilbertson, a used car salesman, was charged with five counts of knowingly altering the odometers of motor vehicles, in violation of 49 U.S.C. §§ 32703(2) and 32709(b). He was convicted on four counts after a jury trial*fn1 , and he was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment on each count, to be served concurrently. Gilbertson now challenges his convictions and sentence on appeal. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in all respects.

I. HISTORY

Steven Boehm noticed a 1989 Ford Probe sitting on the lot at Griesbach Auto in Weston, Wisconsin. Believing there was something familiar about the car, Boehm took a closer look. Purely by coincidence, Boehm discovered the Probe used to be his car; he had traded it in weeks earlier to someone else. That was not his only discovery, however. Boehm also discovered the odometer on the car now read around 70,000 miles, which seemed odd to Boehm given that the car had around 92,000 miles on it when he traded it in. Boehm called Tom Krummel, an investigator with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (the "DOT"), to relay his discoveries. An investigation ensued.

Krummel initially went to Griesbach Auto and located the Probe. He later telephoned the dealership and spoke with Gilbertson, a used car salesman and previous owner of the then-defunct D&A Auto. During that call, Gilbertson said the Probe was his (i.e., left over from D&A) and that the speedometer had been replaced because it was defective.*fn2 Krummel was suspicious, however, and arranged an in-person meeting for June 20, 2001, at Krummel's office in Wausau, Wisconsin. Gilbertson attended as scheduled; also present was Kevin Konopacki, an odometer fraud specialist with the DOT.

Gilbertson initially denied tampering with the odometer on the Probe. But upon further questioning, he admitted he "changed out" (i.e., replaced) the odometer to make the Probe easier to sell, even though the odometer was working properly. He also admitted to tampering with the odometers on approximately 25 other cars. At this point, the investigators offered Gilbertson a deal. If Gilbertson provided a written statement, identified the 25 cars, and provided compensation to the victims, then they would refer the case to the state prosecutor's office, as opposed to the U.S. Attorney. Gilbertson complied for the most part. He provided a written statement admitting what he did and admitting that what he did was wrong. He also provided restitution to his victims, which covered approximately 70 cars, as opposed to the original 25.*fn3 Furthermore, he surrendered his business records as well as his license to sell cars. As promised, his case was referred to the state prosecutor's office for prosecution.

Unfortunately for Gilbertson, the state prosecution did not proceed as planned. Although not entirely clear from the record, the state prosecutor apparently grew frustrated with how the case was progressing and had all charges dismissed. The prosecutor then referred the case to the U.S. Attorney's office for prosecution. On December 8, 2004, Gilbertson was indicted by a federal grand jury with five counts of odometer tampering. It is important to note the Probe was not among the four remaining vehicles listed in the indictment.

Prior to trial, Gilbertson filed a motion to suppress his written and oral statements.*fn4 In partially granting the motion, the district court excluded any statements Gilbertson made after the investigators offered their deal. This included the written statement, and anything Gilbertson said after the offer. Any statements made prior to the offer were still admissible.

At trial, the government introduced the Wisconsin Certified Certificates of Title for the four vehicles listed in the remaining counts. They contained the odometer statements for the vehicles at the time they were purchased by Gilbertson. The government then called the four victims, who testified as to the mileage on the vehicles at the time they purchased them. Their testimony established that the mileage on their respective vehicles was less than that listed on the corresponding titles.

The government faced a significant obstacle at trial. The admissible evidence established Gilbertson admitted to tampering with approximately 25 cars, but there was little evidence linking Gilbertson's tampering to the four specific vehicles listed in the indictment, as the Probe was not included in the remaining counts and all of Gilbertson's subsequent statements had been excluded. During the cross-examination of Konopacki, Gilbertson's attorney went to great lengths to point out Konopacki did not inspect the four vehicles, nor did he contact the previous owners regarding the odometer statements. On re-direct, however, the government asked Konopacki why he did not inspect the vehicles or contact the previous owners. Konopacki answered he contacted Gilbertson directly and asked him if each of the four vehicles were one of the original 25, and Gilbertson responded, "Yes." This provided the necessary link the government was looking for. Gilbertson's attorney did not object to this testimony, at least not until a recess, at which time the trial judge found the objection was not timely and was therefore waived.

On appeal, Gilbertson argues the admission of the vehicle titles to establish the vehicles' mileage at the time of his purchase constituted testimonial hearsay under Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), and thus violated his right under the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He further argues the government engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by eliciting his post-deal confirmations regarding the four vehicles in violation of the district court's order. Along the same lines, Gilbertson argues the govern-ment's repeated reference to his "confession" during closing argument also violated the court's order and constituted prosecutorial misconduct. Finally, Gilbertson argues he was entitled to a reduction in his Guidelines sentence for the acceptance of responsibility.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Sixth Amendment ...


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