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United States v. Bortnovsky

decided: June 5, 1987.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
ALEXANDER BORTNOVSKY, A/K/A "SASHA," LEONID BRAZ, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from judgments of conviction in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Duffy, J.) following a jury trial in which appellants were convicted of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, of conspiring to defraud the United States, and of mail fraud. Reversed and remanded.

Before: VAN GRAAFEILAND, PRATT and ALTIMARI, Circuit Judges.

Per Curiam:

Appellants Alexander Bortnovsky and Leonid Braz, along with alleged co-conspirator Naum Braz, were indicted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for engaging in a scheme to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the New York Property Insurance Underwriting Association through the submission of false and inflated insurance claims. Specifically, the twelve-count indictment charged appellants with mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (1982), with conspiring to defraud the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 286 (1969), and with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et seq. (1982), by conducting and by conspiring to conduct the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. Id. §§ 1962(c),(d). The RICO counts charged as predicate acts of racketeering activity the crimes of arson, reckless murder, and mail fraud.

Appellants were tried before a jury and convicted of all counts, although the jury found appellants not guilty of the predicate act of reckless murder.

On January 29, 1987, appellant Bornovsky was sentenced to concurrent terms of twenty years' imprisonment on Counts One and Two, to a consecutive term of ten years' imprisonment on Count Three, and to concurrent terms of five years' imprisonment on Counts Four through Nine. Appellant Braz was sentenced to concurrent terms of eight years' imprisonment on Counts One through Three, and to concurrent terms of five years' imprisonment on Counts Four through Nine.

On this appeal, appellant Bortnovsky contends that the district court erred (1) by refusing to grant his newly retained counsel a reasonable opportunity to prepare a defense, thereby depriving appellant of the effective assistance of counsel; (2) by failing to grant a bill of particulars; and (3) by imposing a significantly harsher sentence on appellant than that imposed on his co-defendant Leonid Braz. Appellant Braz joins in appellant Bortnovsky's argument concerning the impropriety of the district court's denial of the motion for a bill of particulars and raises the following additional arguments: (1) the district court erred by admitting evidence of the alleged reckless murder and (2) the district court's instructions to the jury regarding the weight to be accorded the testimony of defendant's expert were so one-sided as to be prejudicial.

This court need address in detail only appellants' argument concerning the prejudicial effect of the district court's failure to grant a bill of particulars as it is dispositive of the case. We hold that the district court abused its discretion in denying appellants' motion for a bill of particulars identifying which of appellants' insurance claims for burglary losses were fraudulent and which of the many invoices submitted to substantiate these claims were falsified. Accordingly, we reverse the convictions of appellants Bortnovsky and Braz and remand for a new trial.

Discussion

Rule 7(f) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permits a defendant to seek a bill of particulars in order to identify with sufficient particularity the nature of the charge pending against him, thereby enabling defendant to prepare for trial, to prevent surprise, and to interpose a plea of double jeopardy should he be prosecuted a second time for the same offense. See Wong Tai v. United States, 273 U.S. 77, 82, 71 L. Ed. 545, 47 S. Ct. 300 (1927); United States v. Glaze, 313 F.2d 757, 759 (2d Cir. 1963) (quoting United States v. Murray, 297 F.2d 812, 819 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 369 U.S. 828, 82 S. Ct. 845, 7 L. Ed. 2d 794 (1962)); see generally 1 C. Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure § 129 (2d ed. 1982). The decision of whether or not to grant a bill of particulars rests within the sound discretion of the district court. United States v. Panza, 750 F.2d 1141, 1148 (2d Cir. 1984). Generally, if the information sought by defendant is provided in the indictment or in some acceptable alternate form, no bill of particulars is required. See United States v. Matlock, 675 F.2d 981, 986 (8th Cir. 1982) (indictment apprised defendant of charges); United States v. Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers, 624 F.2d 461, 466 (4th Cir. 1979) (no bill of particulars required where extensive disclosure of documents and testimony), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1078, 101 S. Ct. 859, 66 L. Ed. 2d 801 (1981).

Paragraph 6 of the indictment in the instant case alleges that:

a. The defendants would and did submit false claims for burglary losses to the Federal Insurance Administration ("FIA").

c. The defendants would and did submit false claims for fire damage to the New York Property Insurance Underwriting Association ("NYPIUA").

Elsewhere in the indictment, the Government, in setting forth the essential elements of the mail fraud charges, provides a list of the suspect pieces of mail along with their approximate dates of mailing and addressees. Nowhere in the indictment, however, does the Government specify the dates of the staged burglaries or enumerate which of numerous documents were falsified. Immediately following return of the indictment, counsel for Leonid Braz was permitted to inspect and copy some 4,000 documents.

On October 1, 1986, appellant Leonid Braz and co-defendant Naum Braz moved for a bill of particulars and discovery identifying the fraudulent documents and burglaries. The district ...


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