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Marriage Scams For Profit: The Best Man Goes To Prison For Indecent Proposal


criminal appeals lawyer, marriage scam,, defraud united states in exchange for profit

U.S v. Serunjogi

No.12-2392

U.S Court Of Appeals for the First Circuit

Decided on: September 24, 2014

Blog By: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer

Issue: Whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that Defendant knowingly and voluntarily entered into an agreement to participate in a sham marriage for the purpose of defrauding the United States and whether the District Court erred by not applying U.S.S.G § 2L2.1(b)(1), which allows for a three level downward departure if the offense was committed other than for profit.

Summary: Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Defendant facilitated in this bribe by committing marriage fraud. On Appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of evidence in his conviction and contends that the District Court erred by not allowing a three-level downward departure because the offense was committed other than for profit. The First Circuit Court of Appeals held that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant knowingly and voluntarily entered into an agreement to participate in a sham marriage and that Defendant aided and abetted the conduct; he was also responsible for the profit and was denied the three-level downward departure. The Court affirmed the conviction.

See Also: Sentencing Guidelines Cross-Reference §2c1.1(c)(1): Fake Cocaine And Government Sting Operation

Holding: The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to conclude that Defendant had knowingly and voluntarily entered into an agreement to facilitate a sham marriage and undertook several overt acts in furtherance of that agreement.

The First Circuit held that because Defendant aided and abetted the conduct of a co-defendant, he was also responsible for the profit and denied the three-level downward departure.

Facts: Defendant Ronald Serunjogi was convicted of conspiring with his friend Samson to arrange a sham marriage. Defendant facilitated this scheme by bribing his friend May by offering her money. Immigration Service questioned the couple separately, found that the couple had several conflicting answers, and referred the matter for criminal investigation.

May cooperated and signed a plea agreement. A jury convicted Defendant of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Defendant appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals where he challenges the sufficiency of evidence and contends that the District Court erred by not allowing a three-level downward departure in his base offense level. The First Circuit affirmed.

Legal Analysis: The First Circuit Court of Appeals held that they review challenges to the sufficiency of evidence de novo, viewing all evidence, credibility determinations, and reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the verdict, in order to determine whether the jury rationally could have found that the Government established each element of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. Portalla, 496 F.3d 23, 26 (1st Cir. 2007).

The First Circuit Court of Appeals will not weigh the evidence or make credibility judgments however; these tasks are solely within the jury’s province. United States v. Hernandez, 218 F.3d 58, 64 (1st. Cir. 2000).

In this case, Defendant was charged under 18 U.S.C. § 371 with conspiracy to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof. To prove that Defendant conspired to defraud the United States, the Government must establish 1) the existence of an agreement, 2) the unlawful object of that agreement, and 3) an overt act in furtherance of that agreement. United States v. Floyd, 740 F.3d 22, 28 (1st. Cir.2004.

Here, the unlawful object of the conspiracy was marriage fraud. Defendant argues that the Government did not offer any credible evidence of the existence of a conspiracy, as well as his knowing and voluntary participation in that conspiracy. He challenges the Government’s primary witness, May, asserting that her testimony was filled with inconsistencies that no rational jury could have credited her account.

The First Circuit held that, as the Government’s witness, rather then testify to events she could not recall, she freely admitted when she could not remember. A rational jury could perceive that exchange as the testimony of a person who was being completely honest about what she could not remember, and therefore find her to be credible. Because jurors are in the best position to judge a witness’s credibility, sufficiency challenges are a tough sell.

The First Circuit held that they will not assume the jury’s role of weighing evidence and making credibility judgments; instead they must reject only those evidentiary interpretations that are unreasonable, insupportable, or overly speculative. United States v. Spinney, 65 F.3d 231, 234 (1st. Cir. 1995). Here, the jury heard from both the witness and Defendant and was capable of weighing their credibility. The jury was entitled to draw its own inferences and conclusions from all of the evidence presented. It suffices if the conclusions that the jury draws from the evidence, although not inevitable, are reasonable.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to conclude that Defendant had knowingly and voluntarily entered into an agreement to facilitate a sham marriage and undertook several overt acts in furtherance of that agreement.


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