Law School Case Brief
United States v. Hopkins - 916 F.2d 207 (5th Cir. 1990)
The agreement necessary to establish the existence of a conspiracy can be established by circumstantial evidence where the circumstances are such as to warrant a jury in finding that the conspirators had a unity of purpose or a common design and understanding, or a meeting of minds in an unlawful arrangement, the conclusion that a conspiracy is established is justified.
Defendants Robert H. Hopkins, Jr., Morten Hopkins, and John W. Harrell were officers or directors of one or more savings and loan institutions. They wished to make large contributions to various candidates or political groups in an effort to prevent passage of legislation that they felt was unfavorable to the savings and loan industry. Because federal law prohibited federally insured savings and loans from making political contributions, they devised a scheme by which the savings and loans that they controlled would make political contributions indirectly: individual officers and employees of the institutions would be required to make contributions and would then be reimbursed for those contributions by the institution. The reimbursements were disguised either as pay raises or as reimbursements for legitimate business expenses. In the course of this scheme, they falsified various records of the financial institutions involved and concealed certain facts from both bank examiners and federal election authorities. After trial in federal district court, Robert and Morten Hopkins were convicted of conspiring to commit an offense against the United States after scheming to circumvent federal election laws; Harrell was convicted of knowingly and willfully causing false entries to be made in the records of an institution having accounts insured by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation. On appeal, defendants challenged the sufficiency and admission of evidence, the denial of a continuance, and their prosecution under allegedly incorrect statutes.
Was the evidence sufficient to establish that the Hopkins' conspired to commit an offense against the United States?
The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The evidence was sufficient to support the convictions, as it established that Robert and Morten Hopkins shared a unity of purpose to arrange and disguise indirect corporate political contributions. There was ample evidence tending to show that they knew that their conduct was illegal and unauthorized, and that they intended to interfere with the proper functioning of at least three federal agencies: the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. The signed forms indicated that employees were receiving pay raises because their status had changed when in fact the employees received pay raises only so that they could contribute the money to the Hopkins' political action committee. The evidence showed that both Robert and Morten Hopkins either approved individual reimbursements for political contributions or assured officers of the corporation that they would be reimbursed. From all of this evidence a jury could reasonably infer that the Hopkins were aware that savings and loans were not allowed to make political contributions, and that the steps they took to disguise the contributions were designed to evade the FEC's reporting requirements. In addition, the court rejected Harrell's claim to the contrary and ruled that there was ample evidence from which the jury could reasonably have concluded that Harrell caused false entries to be made.
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