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United States of America v. Alfred L. Wolff Gmbh et al

January 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge.


On August 31, 2010, a federal grand jury returned a forty-four count Indictment charging Defendant Alfred L. Wolff, Inc. ("ALW" or "Defendant") and others with fraudulently avoiding nearly $80 million in customs duties on honey that Defendant and others imported into the United States from 2002 to 2009. Specifically, Count I charges Defendant and others with conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, by (i) unlawfully importing Chinese-origin honey; (ii) selling and facilitating the transportation and sale of Chinese-origin honey knowing that it had been unlawfully imported; (iii) introducing and delivering adulterated honey into interstate commerce; and (iv) obstructing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 542, 545 and 21 U.S.C. §§ 331(a), 333(a)(2), 342(a)(2)(C)(i), and 348(a). The remaining counts in the Indictment charge Defendant and others with the individual offenses underlying the conspiracy charges.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Compel Production of Documents pursuant to Rule 16(a)(1)(E) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. (R. 163.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motion.

I. Background

On May 5, 2009, prior to the grand jury's return of the Indictment in this case, the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington filed a criminal complaint against Chung Po Liu, among others. (R. 163, Def.'s Mot., Ex. D, United States v. Liu, No. 09-cr-185 (W.D. Wash.).) In Liu, the government alleged that the defendants in that case imported Chinese-origin honey to the United States via the Philippines and Thailand, and falsely declared the origin of the imported honey to United States Customs officials. On February 12, 2010, the defendants in Liu filed a motion to suppress on the basis of the Supreme Court's decision in Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 155-56, 98 S. Ct. 2674, 57 L. Ed. 2d 667 (1978) (holding that intentionally or recklessly submitting false statements in an affidavit supporting a search warrant violates the Fourth Amendment). Pursuant to a protective order entered by the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, the parties in Liu filed their briefing materials under seal. Following a Franks hearing on April 1-2, 2010, the district court in Washington denied the Liu defendants' motion to suppress.

II. Legal Standard

Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs pretrial discovery and inspection in federal criminal proceedings. The Rule provides in relevant part that, upon a defendant's request: the government must permit the defendant to inspect and to copy or photograph books, papers, documents, data, photographs, tangible objects, buildings or places, or copies or portions of any of these items, if the item is within the government's possession, custody, or control and:

(i) the item is material to preparing the defense;

(ii) the government intends to use the item in its case-in-chief at trial; or

(iii) the item was obtained from or belongs to the defendant.

Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(E); see also United States v. Baker, 453 F.3d 419, 424 (7th Cir. 2006). As the Seventh Circuit has held, the Rule "requires the production of inculpatory as well as exculpatory evidence, which might assist in preparation of a defense." Baker, 453 F.3d at 424 (citations omitted). This Court has broad discretion in its implementation of Rule 16. See id.

III. Discussion

In the present case, Defendant asks the Court to "compel the production of pleadings filed under seal by the defendant, at the government's request, in [Liu]." (Def.'s Mot. at 1.) The materials that Defendant seeks apparently include an expert report that the Liu defendants annexed to their pleadings. On January 6, 2012, pursuant to this Court's order, the government filed, ex parte and under seal, the documents that Defendant requests. The Court has reviewed the documents in camera. Based on this review, and in light of the record and the applicable law, the Court denies Defendant's motion.

As a preliminary matter, Defendant delayed significantly in bringing the present motion to compel. More than six months ago, in response to Defendant's request, the government represents that it produced a substantial number of documents, including (1) "719 pages of underlying documents, data, and related material regarding the Bureau of Customers and Border Protection's (CBP) Honey Testing Program . . . . the very same documents that were provided under seal in [Liu];" (2) "CBP lab test results pertaining to the nine honey samples identified in [] the original search warrant;" and (3) "a redacted copy of a declaration from Carson A. Watts, the Director of CBP's Laboratory in Savannah, Georgia, which was prepared and filed in connection with the Liu prosecution in Seattle." (R. 165, Gov't Resp. at 1-2.) Defendant continued to seek additional records after the government's production, namely the defendants' sealed pleadings in Liu, which contain attorney argument and expert opinion going to the issue of probable cause in Liu. At a status conference on June 13, 2011, the Court advised Defendant to file a motion if the government refused to ...

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