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United States v. Schaffer

decided: April 21, 1959.


Author: Medina

Before SWAN, MEDINA and WATERMAN, Circuit Judges.

MEDINA, Circuit Judge:

Defendants-appellants Max Schaffer, Norman Schaffer, Benjamin T. Marco, and Hyman Karp were convicted of violating Section 2314 of title 18 United States Code by knowingly transporting stolen merchandise consisting of ladies' and children's wearing apparel of a value in excess of $5,000 in interstate commerce.*fn1 Appellants were tried together to a jury on two indictments, only the first of which is relevant here. The second indictment, containing a single count charge of conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. ยง 659, by receiving and concealing goods stolen in interstate commerce, of a value of more than $100, knowing the same to have been stolen was dismissed at the close of the prosecution's case.

The first indictment is in four counts. Count one charges defendants Max and Norman Schaffer and three other defendants, Anthony (Tony) Stracuzza, Mario Stracuzza and Dorothy Stracuzza, with knowingly transporting stolen merchandise between the Southern District of New York and Lebanon, Pennsylvania, during the period from May 15, 1953 to and including July 27, 1953. Count two charges a similar violation by the Stracuzzas and Marco, the transportation taking place between the Southern District of New York and Bluefield, West Virginia, during the period from June 11, 1953 to and including July 27, 1953. Count three charges a similar offense by the Stracuzzas and Karp, the transportation occurring between the Southern District of New York and Fall River, Massachusetts, during the period from May 21, 1953 to and including July 27, 1953. The fourth count charges the four appellants and the three Stracuzzas with a conspiracy to transport stolen merchandise in interstate commerce during the period from September 1, 1952 to October 20, 1954.

Tony and Mario Stracuzza pleaded guilty prior to trial and the indictment of Dorothy Stracuzza was severed and pending at the time of the trial. At the conclusion of the prosecution's case, which took a little over two weeks to present, each of the appellants rested without calling any witnesses in his behalf. The Court, on motions made by the appellants, dismissed the conspiracy count. The substantive counts went to the jury, the principal issue being whether or not each defendant knew that the goods he received from the Stracuzzas was stolen. Each defendant was found guilty of the substantive charge made against him. The two Schaffers and Karp were each sentenced to two years imprisonment, and each was fined $10,000. Marco received a sentence of four years imprisonment and a fine of $10,000. All appellants were released on bail pending appeal.

The Government proved that each appellant, a retail garment store owner, entered into a standing agreement with Tony Stracuzza by which merchandise was shipped to him at substantial discounts, previously agreed upon. This merchandise was stolen by Mario Stracuzza, Tony's brother and assistant, who induced various truck drivers to turn the goods over to him for a share of the profits. Such practices had been going on for several years and this illegal business had been initially operated by Sol Eisenberg and Hymie Berk. At first acting in a subordinate capacity with Eisenberg and Berk, Tony along with his brother Mario later formed a partnership with Berk in September 1952 and did business under the name A. Finkel. This partnership lasted until March 1953. Each of the appellants did business with Berk and Eisenberg and all but Marco did business with A. Finkel.

In May 1953 Tony and Mario set out on their own and began operations under the name A. Schafler. It is the appellants' dealings with this concern that are the basis of the indictment. Goods were sent to each appellant at rates 55-65% of the original manufacturer's price.According to agreement Tony Stracuzza sent each appellant the original manufacturers' invoices with each shipment. Max and Norman Schaffer visited each of Stracuzza's various establishments on several occasions and they saw both the merchandise and the manufacturers' invoices. Karp also visited all establishments but A. Schafler's and Marco dealt personally with Stracuzza at Berk and Eisenberg's and at A. Schafler's. The wealth of other evidence produced on trial need not be detailed at this point but will be alluded to as it becomes relevant.

Appellants make the following points: (1) that it was error to refuse to dismiss the indictment and to direct a verdict of acquittal in favor of each appellant on the ground that the aggregation of the value of various shipments was permitted despite the fact that no single shipment to any appellant was of a value of $5,000;*fn2 (2) that it was error to submit any of the substantive charges to the jury in view of the dismissal of the conspiracy count, due to the prejudicial effect on each appellant of the evidence admitted in support of the conspiracy count and the evidence received against each of the other appellants in support of the substantive charges; and (3) that it was error to refuse to direct a mistrial because of allegedly prejudicial and improper comments made by the prosecutor in his summation to the jury.

We shall discuss these contentions seriatim, but find no merit in any of them.

The Propriety of Aggregating Shipments

It is conceded that no shipment to any appellant was worth as much as $5,000. On the other hand, it is agreed that if shipments may be aggregated, the statutory requisite is far exceeded.*fn3 The judicial authority on this point is rather meager and we think with good reason.*fn4 For the answer has been spelled out in no uncertain terms in the statute and in the legislative history.

Section 2311 of title 18 U.S.C. furnishes the basic definitions used in the chapter on stolen property which includes sections 2311 through 2317. It is there provided:

"'Value' means the face, par, or market value, whichever is the greatest, and the aggregate value of all goods, wares, and merchandise, securities, and money referred to in a single indictment shall constitute the value thereof."

That the statute means precisely what it says is shown by the following excerpts from the ...

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