US Supreme Court Debates on Conspiracy Charge

Posted by Ilse Narvaez. 

A conspiracy occurs when two or more parties agree to commit a crime. The crime is complete when the agreement is made. The four elements of conspiracy are an agreement, unlawful object, knowledge and intent, and an overt act. The prosecution has to prove there was knowledge of the conspiracy and the target of the conspiracy. The Hobbs Act prescribes criminal punishment for “whoever in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or affects commerce by extortion” (Justice.gov 7).

From May 2009 to February 2011, Samuel Ocasio, a Baltimore police officer, and approximately 50 other police officers were involved in a kickback scheme. During the scheme, police officers working at automobile accidents, encouraged people to use the services of Majestic Auto Repair Shop for towing and repairs (Reuters). In return, the owners of Majestic Auto Repair Shop, Hernan Moreno and Edwin Mejia, paid the officers between $150 and $300 per referral. Payments were collected the next day usually at Moreno’s home, an ATM, or a convenience store. The City of Baltimore already had contracts with pre-approved towing companies that did not include Majestic. In addition to his, officers were prohibited from accepting any compensation, gifts, or rewards without the Police Commissioner’s permission. The scheme was discovered when federal agents were wiretapping Majestic, and recorded scores of calls connected to the kickbacks (Chicago Tribune).

A grand jury indicted 9 police officers including Ocasio, and the Majestic owners, in connection with the kickback scheme. Ocasio was convicted of three charges of extortion and one charge of conspiracy and sentenced to 18 months in prison for his participation. Ocasio argued against the conspiracy charge, since he believed he could not be guilty if the money was obtained from Moreno and Mejia whom were co-conspirators. The court denied this because Majestic, not its owners were actually the source of payments. The court also mentioned that the government did not have to prove that the conspiracy was to obtain money from someone outside of the conspiracy.

After convicted, Ocasio appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. His argument was that “conspiring to extort property from one’s own coconspirator does not contravene federal law” (Justice.gov 9). The court of appeals affirmed the previous conviction for various reasons. The court held that a person who actively participates in a conspiracy scheme can be prosecuted as a co-conspirator even if he is also a victim of the agreement. This relates to the basic conspiracy rule that mentions that a conspirator is responsible for his actions as well as for the actions of his co-conspirators. In this case, Ocasio may have taken money from Moreno and Mejia instead of customers, but he is responsible for the actions of the brothers as well. The court also disagreed that “the Hobbs Act’s ‘from another’ language requires that a coconspirator obtain property ‘from someone outside the conspiracy’” (Justice.gov 9). This simply means that someone other than the public official.

Due to the affirmation of the conviction by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ocasio decided to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court decided to take the case that will only have an effect on the conspiracy charge. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the case before June.

Ilse is a graduate student in accounting with a certificate in forensic accounting at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University.

Works-cited

Justice.gov “In the Supreme Court of the United States.” Ocasio vs. United States of America.

Web. <http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/osg/briefs/2015/01/28/14-361_ocasio_opp_4.pdf>.

“U.S. Justices Weigh Baltimore Cop’s Kickback Conspiracy Appeal.” Reuters. Thomson

Reuters, 06 Oct. 2015. Web. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/06/us-usa-court-conspiracy-idUSKCN0S02LR20151006#7Kh5jkDcFhxjWb05.97

“At the Supreme Court, a Case for Fans of ‘The Wire'” Chicagotribune.com. Web.<http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-supreme-court-the-wire-20151006-story.html>.