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United States v. Dinga

July 6, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WILLIAM DINGA, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 08-CR-122-Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

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

ARGUED APRIL 9, 2010

Before POSNER, FLAUM, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

William Dinga bought several firearms in March and April 2008 which attracted the attention of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Because he lied about these purchases, Dinga was charged and convicted of making a false statement to a federal law enforcement officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. He now challenges the sufficiency of the evidence against him, an evidentiary ruling excluding his offer to take a polygraph, and the district court's imposition of an obstruction of justice enhancement at sentencing. Because the evidence is sufficient to uphold his conviction, the evidentiary challenge is without merit, and the sentencing enhancement was properly applied, we affirm both his conviction and sentence.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 6, 2008, William Dinga and a friend went to Big River Sports in Adams, Wisconsin and purchased two firearms with cash. Dinga filled out the necessary forms required by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Fire-arms and Explosives ("ATF"). After waiting the mandatory forty-eight hours, Dinga returned to Big River Sports on March 8, 2008 and picked up the guns. He also purchased three more guns and a magazine for a nine-millimeter handgun, again with cash. Dinga returned yet again on April 9, 2008 to purchase six more firearms. Suspicious of this activity, Big River Sports' owner called ATF about the multiple firearm sales to the same person. That same day, ATF agent Jason Salerno arranged to interview Dinga on the telephone with the help of the local sheriff's department.

During the April 9 interview, Dinga told a series of stories to Agent Salerno before settling on a final explanation that the firearms purchased in March were stolen. Dinga first told Agent Salerno that the firearms were at home in Minneapolis, and then said they were at his girlfriend's house. Dinga also explained that he had been approached by someone who asked him to buy the guns for him, but he was too scared to reveal that person's identity. When Agent Salerno informed Dinga that it was a crime to purchase firearms for others, Dinga finally claimed he would tell the complete truth. Dinga stated that the guns were purchased for his own use. He said that the guns bought on March 6 and March 8 had been stolen out of the backseat of his unlocked car while he was playing basketball with friends the same night he picked them up from the store. Dinga said he left them in the backseat, and not the trunk, because there were large stereo speakers in the trunk and he would have had to work to get the guns in there. He said he did not bring the firearms to his house because the front door to his house was broken, and he did not believe there was a good hiding place in the house. Dinga also admitted that he never reported the stolen firearms to the police, and that the six additional handguns pur-chased on April 9 were to replace the ones that had been stolen.

Dinga stuck to this story, and Agent Salerno asked Dinga to take a polygraph test to see if Dinga was telling the truth. Dinga asked, "Don't you have to get a court order for that?" to which Agent Salerno replied he did not, and he continued to press Dinga about taking the examination. Eventually, in response to Agent Salerno's insistence that Dinga set a time on Tuesday for the exam, Dinga replied, "[A]nytime Tuesday." But no poly-graph test was ever conducted.

The superseding indictment charged Dinga with three counts of knowingly making a false statement with respect to information required to be kept by a federally licensed firearms dealer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1)(A), and one count of knowingly and willfully making a false material statement to a federal agent in a matter within that agency's jurisdiction, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. The first three counts concerned Dinga's written statements that he was the actual buyer of the firearms purchased on March 6 and 8, 2008 and April 9, 2008 on ATF Form 4473, a firearms transaction record. In court four, Dinga was charged with falsely telling Agent Salerno that the firearms purchased on March 8, 2008 were for himself and that they had been stolen. The jury acquitted Dinga of the first three counts of the indictment but found Dinga guilty of making a false material statement to Agent Salerno.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Ordinarily, we review sufficiency of the evidence challenges in the light most favorable to the government and reverse only if no reasonable factfinder could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. Morris, 576 F.3d 661, 665 (7th Cir. 2009). A defendant posing this challenge "faces a nearly insurmountable hurdle." Id. Dinga faces an additional hurdle because he has forfeited his challenge by not renewing his motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of evidence or within seven days of the verdict as required by Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, and so we will only reverse his conviction if we find a manifest miscarriage of justice under the plain error standard of review. United States v. Taylor, 226 F.3d 595, 596 (7th Cir. 2000).

Dinga was charged with making a false statement to a federal law enforcement officer. To convict Dinga of this crime, the government needed to prove that Dinga willingly and knowingly made a statement that was false and material, and that the statement concerned a matter within the jurisdiction of a federal agency. 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Dinga insists that he bought the guns for self-use but that he no longer has them because the guns were stolen from his car. He argues the government cannot disprove this story because it is true, and the evidence that he did not buy the guns for self-use was circumstantial. But, a "verdict may be rational even if it relies solely on circumstantial evidence." United States v. Moore, 572 F.3d 334, 337 (7th Cir. 2009). The government's theory of the case was that Dinga no longer possessed the firearms on the date of the ATF interview because he bought them to sell or give to someone else. Although it would have strengthened the government's argument to introduce the recovered firearms or witness testimony that Dinga had given the firearms to others, this evidence was not necessary.

The government introduced evidence of Dinga's behavior during and after the purchase of firearms and the conflicting stories he initially told the federal agent. Dinga testified to his version of events.Documents showed that Dinga had very little money in his bank account before his purchase of the firearms, had worked only a few days in the months before the purchase, and had no experience with firearms. Dinga testified that he had lied to Agent Salerno about many facts such as missing his driver's license, being approached by someone to purchase firearms, and the firearms being at his girlfriend's house. Nonetheless, he insisted that the truth was that the guns were stolen out of his car. Dinga acknowledged that he reported a missing wallet to the police on April 8, 2008 but did not report the alleged theft of firearms that cost over $800. He only reported them missing to the ...


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