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United States v. Bills

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 16, 2016

JOHN BILLS Defendant.


          Virginia M. Kendall United States District Court Judge

         On August 13, 2014, Defendant John Bills was indicted on twenty counts[1] for fraudulently causing the City of Chicago (“City”) to award Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc. (“Redflex”) a contract for the installation and operation of red light cameras after he received bribes and personal benefits from Redflex. (Dkt. No. 156 at ¶ 1; Dkt. No. 164 at 1.) Following a two-week trial, a jury convicted Bills of all counts of the indictment on January 26, 2016. (Dkt. 148.) Bills moves for a judgment of acquittal under Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c) arguing principally that the evidence presented to the jury was inherently unreliable. (Id. at 2-4.) Alternatively, Bills requests a new trial under Fed. R. Crim. P. 33, claiming that the Court erred by: (1) admitting hearsay testimony regarding the existence of and Bills’s role in the alleged conspiracy, and (2) denying Bills’s pre-trial motion to change venue. (Id. at 4-15.) The Court denies Bills’s motion because there was more than sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict and the Court’s previous rulings were supported by the facts and the law.

         I. Bills is Not Entitled to a Judgment of Acquittal

         Bills asserts that he is entitled to a judgment of acquittal because the evidence presented to the jury was insufficient to sustain his conviction. He principally contends that the evidence was inherently unreliable and therefore should have been disregarded by the Court. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. Bills faces “a nearly insurmountable hurdle” in claiming that the jury had insufficient evidence to conclude that he was guilty of the charges. See e.g. United States v. Domnenko, 763 F.3d 768, 772 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing United States v. Torres-Chavez, 744 F.3d 988, 993 (7th Cir. 2014)). Once the Defendant is convicted, the Court reviews the evidence presented to the jury in the light most favorable to the Government and makes all reasonable inferences in the Government’s favor. See United States v. Cejas, 761 F.3d 717, 726 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing United States v. Larkins, 83 F.3d 162, 165 (7th Cir. 1996)). The Court may overturn the jury’s guilty verdict only if upon viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, “the record is devoid of evidence from which a reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Jones, 713 F.3d 336, 340 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Stevenson, 680 F.3d 854, 855-56 (7th Cir. 2012)). Finally, “[i]t is up to the jury to weigh the evidence and determine the credibility of the witnesses; [courts do] not second-guess the jury's assessment of the evidence.” United States v. Rollins, 544 F.3d 820, 835 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Bills contends that the Court should grant his motion for judgment of acquittal because the Government “relied almost exclusively” on the testimony of three witnesses - Karen Finley, Martin O’Malley[2], and Aaron Rosenberg - who were “inherently unreliable” and whose testimony “was not supported by anything other than their own statements or, arguably, documents which support their version of the events only if [the jury] believe[d] their interpretations of those documents.” (Dkt. No. 159 at 3-4.) Based upon those allegations, Bills argues that the Court should have disregarded those witnesses’ testimony and should now enter a judgment of acquittal.

         As an initial point, the Court is obliged to “defer[] to the jury’s credibility determinations” and “cannot second-guess the jury’s determination of which witnesses were credible and which were not.” United States v. Graham, 315 F.3d 777, 781 (7th Cir. 2003). Bills’s current arguments that Finley and Rosenberg “are admitted liars” and that O’Malley’s story was “largely unsupported” are essentially requests to this Court to “reweigh the credibility of the witnesses.” See, e.g., Myers v. Scales, No. IP 00-0457-C-T/K, 2002 WL 31242735, at *2 (S.D. Ind. Aug. 30, 2002). “However, it is within the exclusive province of the jury to judge the facts and the credibility of the witnesses.” See, e.g., id. at *2; see also Goodwin v. MTD Products, Inc., 232 F.3d 600, 609 (7th Cir. 2000) (“Rather, credibility questions are within the province of the trier of fact, in this case a jury.’); Hasham v. Ca. State Bd. of Equalization, 200 F.3d 1035, 1047 (7th Cir.2000) (“We will not second-guess a jury on credibility issues.). Given that the Court may not overtake the jury’s role and reassess witness credibility, Bills’s contentions are insufficient to meet the nearly insurmountable hurdle before him.

         Even more, his argument that the testimony should have been disregarded “because it was not supported by anything other than their own statements” or the witnesses’ interpretation of the documentation presented to the jury is simply contrary to the trial record. First, the Government presented other witnesses, all of whom had no previous relationship with Bills, that bolstered the testimony provided by Finley, Rosenberg, and O’Malley. For example, Jack Jarzynka testified that he sold his Arizona condominium to O’Malley through John Bills, who delivered a check to Jarzynka to place the condominium on hold even though the eventual HUD 1 Settlement Statement listed O’Malley and his wife as the borrowers. Jarzynka testified that he never met O’Malley despite the fact that O’Malley was listed as the purchaser of the home. This evidence showed that O’Malley was sending Bills money that O’Malley received from Redflex to effectuate such purchases.

         Anthony Rudis’s testimony was nearly identical. Rudis stated that Bills paid him $2, 400 for catering Bills’s daughter’s graduation party through a check that was written off the account of M.G. O’Malley & Associates. Just as with Jarzynka, Rudis did not know O’Malley, had never met O’Malley, and had never done any business with M.G. O’Malley & Associates.

         Finally, Michael Noonan’s testimony further bolsters the testimony of the three principal witnesses. In an identical vein to that of Jarzynka and Rudis, Noonan testified that Bills repaid Noonan for monies that Noonan lent to Bills by providing Noonan with number of separate checks that were written from the account of M.G. O’Malley & Associates. Similarly to the other two witnesses, Noonan also testified that did not know O’Malley, had never met O’Malley, and had never done business with M.G. O’Malley & Associates.

         All of this evidence, corroborated and supported O’Malley’s testimony that he passed along commissions and bonuses that he received from Redflex to Bills, allowing Bills to spend thousands of dollars on meals, vacations, and even another home among other purchases. The three principal witnesses’ testimony was therefore corroborated and the circumstantial evidence supported Bills’s involvement in the conspiracy and the substantiated the benefits that he derived from that conspiracy.

         Along with the testimony of other witnesses, the Government presented further evidence in the nature of e-mails, airline and financial records, and other documentation that corroborated the testimony of the three main witnesses. For example, Rosenburg testified that he submitted numerous expense requests - related to hotel stays, meals, and other gifts - to Redflex on behalf of John Bills. The jury had the opportunity to review a number of those expense requests through the multitude of cash expense statements that the Government submitted as part of its presentation of evidence. (See, e.g., Government Trial Exhibit[3] 272.) In all, Rosenberg submitted expense requests amounting to some $14, 246.17; a number that Rosenburg testified to and the documentary evidence unequivocally supported. (See Govt. Tr. Ex. 287.) Moreover, the Government introduced recorded conversations between Rosenburg and Bills in which the two clearly discussed airline flights and other benefits for the latter that were expensed to Redflex. (See Govt. Tr. Ex. 318.) The Government presented a similar chart of expenses that O’Malley submitted on Bills’s behalf between January 2003 and June 2011. (Govt. Tr. Ex. 280.) The jury further heard testimony and reviewed documentary evidence of a number of other benefits that Bills received from Redflex through O’Malley. For instance, the jury heard about and saw a copy of the fax by which O’Malley transferred his Val Vista membership to Bills for the Beach Club Village in Arizona within weeks of the date on which Bills purchased the condominium using documents that listed O’Malley and his wife as borrowers. (Govt. Tr. Ex. 202.)

         Given that this evidence is merely a very small proportion of the substantial amount of evidence that the Government placed before the jury, and taking all reasonable inferences in the favor of the Government, it was reasonable that the jury found Rosenberg, O’Malley, and Finley’s testimony regarding Bills’s culpability both reliable and persuasive.[4] Accordingly, the Court denies Bills’s motion for a judgment of acquittal.

         II. The Court Did Not Err Such that a New Trial is Necessary

         Rule 33(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure states that, “[u]pon the defendant’s motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” See also United States v. Berg, 714 F.3d 490, 500 (7th Cir. 2013); United States v. Smith, 674 F.3d 722, 728 (7th Cir. 2012). “A defendant is entitled to a new trial if there is a reasonable possibility that a trial error had a prejudicial effect upon the jury’s verdict.” United States v. Van Eyl, 468 F.3d 428, 436 (7th Cir. 2006); see also United States v. Eberhart, 388 F.3d 1043, 1048 (7th Cir. 2004) (“‘[C]ourts have interpreted [Rule 33] to require a new trial in the interests of justice in a variety of situations in which the substantial rights of the defendant have been jeopardized by errors or omissions during trial.’”) (quoting United States v. Kuzniar, 881 F.2d 466, 470 (7th Cir. 1989))), overruled on other grounds, 546 U.S. 12 (2005). However, “[a] jury verdict in a criminal case ...

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