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United States v. Westley

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MILTON WESTLEY, MICHAEL BELLE, DEJUAN WARD, SEDALE PERVIS, and CLIFFORD BRODIE.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         This opinion follows and explains my orders of June 10, 11, and 12 vacating the guilty pleas of the defendants in this case with respect to the RICO conspiracy charge.

         On August 3, 2017, following an investigation into several shootings in New Haven throughout 2016, a grand jury returned a multi-count indictment charging six individuals with various offenses, including a racketeering conspiracy; violent crimes in aid of racketeering; offenses related to possession, transfer, and use of firearms; and possession with intent to distribute narcotics. (ECF No. 1.) In July and September of 2018, the defendants, Milton Westley, Michael Belle, Dejuan Ward, Sedale Pervis, Clifford Brodie, and Michael Via, appeared before me and changed their pleas to guilty to Count One of the Indictment, which charged them with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). On April 22, 2019, I reviewed the plea agreements and transcripts of the change of plea hearings for Mr. Westley, Mr. Belle, and Mr. Ward and preliminarily concluded that these defendants had not admitted to conduct at their change of plea hearings that amounted to a RICO conspiracy. As a result, I ordered the parties to show cause why their guilty pleas should not be vacated because there was not a factual basis in the record at the time of the hearings to support their pleas. (ECF No. 322.) The Government responded on May 9, 2019 (ECF No. 325), but no defendant filed a response. On June 10, 2019, I vacated the pleas and noted that I would issue an opinion setting forth my reasoning more fully. (ECF No. 335.) On June 11 and 12, 2019, I reviewed the transcripts and plea agreements for Mr. Pervis, Mr. Brodie, and Mr. Via. I determined that the same defects I had previously identified for Mr. Westley, Mr. Belle, and Mr. Ward applied for these defendants as well. I therefore vacated their pleas but provided them with seven days to file an objection. I now set forth my reasoning for doing so.

         I. Background

         I assume familiarity with the procedural history of the case and set forth only the background information necessary to explain my reasoning.

         Trial in this case was scheduled for October 17, 2018. In July and September of 2018, all six defendants notified the Government and the Court of their intention to plead guilty to Count One of the Indictment charging them with conspiracy to violate the substantive provisions of RICO.[1] The parties negotiated plea agreements, and the Court scheduled change-of-plea hearings.

         A. Plea Agreements

         The six plea agreements each adhere to a similar structure. First, the agreements summarize the essential elements of a RICO conspiracy. They explain that, to be guilty of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), the following essential elements of the offense must be satisfied:

1. An enterprise, as described in the Indictment, existed on or about the time alleged in the indictment;
2. The enterprise was engaged in, or its activities affected, interstate or foreign commerce;
3. The defendant was employed by, or was associated with, the enterprise;
4. The defendant knowingly agreed to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of the affairs of the charged enterprise; and
5. The defendant knowingly agreed to participate in the conduct of the affairs of the charged enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, as described in the Indictment; that is, through the commission of at least two charged racketeering acts within ten years of each other, or through causing or aiding and abetting the commission of two such racketeering acts or ...

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