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United States v. Figura

April 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Wayne R. Andersen


This case arises from defendant Jósef Figura's petition for a writ of coram nobis, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a) and the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution, to vacate his conviction in the above captioned case. Figura alleges three errors with his conviction:

(1) upon advice of counsel he pled guilty to a charge of knowingly receiving stolen property despite not possessing the requisite criminal intent, in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process;

(2) he did not fully understand the terms of the agreement under which he pled guilty; and

(3) he pled guilty in reliance on an incorrect representation that he would not suffer any adverse immigration consequences, in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.. For the following reasons, Figura's petition for a writ of coram nobis is denied.


Figura immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1989 at the age of 19. In 1997, he became a permanent resident of the United States. For the past 12 years, he has run his own business as a mechanic. Around August 10, 1995, Figura was contacted by a friend who asked if he was interested in helping sell VCRs to his friends and co-workers. Figura agreed and accepted approximately 100 VCRs. He successfully sold 50-55 of the VCRs and returned the remaining 45-50 VCRs to his friend. As a result of this transaction, Figura was arrested, charged, and pled guilty to knowingly receiving stolen goods that had traveled through interstate commerce.

On August 20, 1996, Figura, in the presence of his attorney, met with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That meeting was conducted in English and without the aid of an interpreter. At the meeting, Figura voluntarily agreed to provide information regarding his involvement with the allegedly stolen VCRs. Figura stated that he met the friend providing the VCRs at the rear of a business and observed a trailer containing several hundred Panasonic VCRs. Figura helped unload the VCRs which were subsequently transported to his apartment. The government alleges that Figura took custody of approximately 110 VCRs and tried to sell them for $100 to $130 each. Further, Figura was allowed to keep any money in excess of $100 per VCR and 10 VCRs for his own use as additional payment. During the course of the meeting, Figura admitted that he "believe[d] that the Panasonic VCRs were stolen based on the circumstances under which he received them and the price that Gasior [Figura's friend] wanted to sell them to him for." Government's Response Exhibit 4, p.3.

On August 9, 2000, shortly before the expiration of the statute of limitations, Figura was indicted on a one-count indictment alleging that he knowingly bought, received or possessed goods exceeding $1,000 in value, specifically approximately 110 Panasonic VCRs, which had been stolen and shipped interstate, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 659. Figura entered into a plea agreement with the government on October 26, 2000. The negotiated plea agreement specified that he would receive a recommendation for an unspecified reduction in his sentence pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 if he agreed to cooperate with the government. The plea agreement took place in the courtroom and Figura had the benefit of a Polish interpreter. The following exchange between the court and Figura took place:

The Court: Are you pleading guilty to Count One [in the indictment] because, in fact, you are guilty of the charge in that count?

Petitioner: Yes.

The Court: According to the plea agreement, . you received goods having a value in excess of a thousand dollars; namely, 110 Panasonic VCRs which had been stolen and carried away from the Chicago Northwestern and Union Pacific Railroad yard in Chicago, . you knew they were stolen and that that constitutes a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 659. Is that true?

Petitioner: Yes, your Honor.

The Court: On or about August 10th, 1995 a container with a value of about $540,000.00 worth of VCRs was shipped in a trailer worth about $12,000.00.... You received a call . from a person known as Individual A who asked you whether you could sell 100 Panasonic VCRs and you knew the VCRs were stolen and agreed to buy some [of] them for $100.00 apiece.. You observed hundreds of stolen Panasonic VCRs inside. Individual A and B loaded about 50 of them into [Individual] A's can and into your car. You, Individual A and Individual B drove to your residence where they were unloaded and thereafter, you [Individuals] A and B returned to the trucking company and loaded another 50 VCRs into ...

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