United States v. Esquenazi

752 F.3d 912 (11th Cir. 2014)

 

RULE:

District courts are cautioned against instructing juries on deliberate ignorance when the evidence only points to either actual knowledge or no knowledge on the part of the defendant. A deliberate ignorance instruction is appropriate only when there is evidence in the record showing the defendant purposely contrived to avoid learning the truth.

FACTS:

In 2001, Terra Telecommunications Corp., owned by Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez, contracted to buy minutes from Telecommunications D'Haiti, S.A.M. (Teleco) directly. By October 2001, Terra owed Teleco over $400,000. Terra, through Esquenazi and Rodriguez, and Robert Antoine, the Director of Teleco’s International Relations entered into an agreement whereby Antoine would shave minutes from Terra's bills to Teleco in exchange for receiving from Terra fifty percent of what the company saved. Antoine further suggested that Terra should disguise the payments by making them to sham companies, which Terra ultimately did. The following month, in November 2001, Terra began funneling personal payments to Antoine using the scheme agreed on. In 2003, Antoine was replaced by Inevil, who was subsequently replaced by Duperval. During the Internal Revenue Service's investigation of the case, Mr. Esquenazi admitted he had bribed Duperval and other Teleco officials. He and Rodriguez nonetheless pleaded not guilty, proceeded to trial, and were found guilty on all counts. Thereafter, Esquenazi and Rodriguez appealed their convictions of conspiracy, violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and money-laundering. Both Esquenazi and Rodriguez contended that the district court’s instructions caused the jury to convict them based only on the fact that Teleco was a government-owned entity that performed a service, without any determination that the service it performed was a governmental function. 

ISSUE:

Did the district court’s instruction cause the jury to convict Esquenazi and Rodriguez based only on the fact that Teleco was a government-owned entity that performed a service?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Read in context, the district court's instructions make plain that provision of a service by a government-owned or controlled entity is not by itself sufficient. According to the appellate court, the district court explained only that an entity that provides a public service "may" meet the definition of "instrumentality," thus indicating that providing a service is not categorically excluded from "a function of the foreign government." Although, read in isolation, the portions of the instruction addressing the provision of services could sweep too broadly, when constrained by the actual definition of "instrumentality" the district court gave and the other guiding factors the district court outlined, the appellate court found no error in these instructions. Indeed, the court opined that the instructions substantially cover the factors the appellate court previously outlined. The appellate court concluded that the instructions neither misstated the law nor prejudicially misled the jury regarding the definition of "instrumentality."

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