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United States v. Pennue

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 5, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
ALVIN PENNUE, Defendant, Appellant

Page 986

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND. Hon. John J. McConnell, Jr. , U.S. District Judge.

Syrie D. Fried for appellant.

Donald C. Lockhart, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Peter F. Neronha, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Selya and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 987

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

As long as human beings rather than computers preside over jury trials, slips of the tongue will occur. But not every such lapsus linguae requires setting aside a jury verdict. In this case, the trial judge's slip of the tongue during jury instructions elicited no objection and, when considered in the context of the jury instructions as a whole, was highly unlikely to have muddled the jury's understanding of the judge's charge. Because we find neither reversible error in this respect nor a shortfall in the district court's sentencing determinations, we reject the defendant's appeal.

I. BACKGROUND

This case involves what is colloquially known as a black money scheme. See generally United States v. Gayekpar, 678 F.3d 629, 633, 635 (8th Cir. 2012); United States v. Wright, 642 F.3d 148, 150-51 (3d Cir. 2011). In October of 2011, defendant-appellant Alvin Pennue made the acquaintance of Wendell Bradford while both men were enjoying the scenery and liquid refreshments at a nightclub in Providence, Rhode Island. The pair later met to discuss a possible business venture. The defendant showed Bradford a bundle of black paper wrapped in cellophane and said that it was genuine United States currency, which had been dyed black in order to smuggle it out of Africa. The defendant explained that the money could be " cleaned" by applying a combination of chemicals and sandwiching clean bills between the blackened bills. A demonstration ensued: the defendant inserted a $20 bill supplied by Bradford between two pieces of black paper, sprinkled the " sandwich" with chemicals, wrapped it in aluminum foil, and applied pressure. After a short interval, he opened the " sandwich" and doused the paper with spring water. Three clean $20 bills emerged.

Bradford was impressed but not convinced. He agreed, however, to meet with the defendant's associate, Anthony Chadheen. The defendant and Chadheen came to the service station where Bradford worked. They showed him a color photograph of what was purported to be $2,000,000 of black money. After witnessing another demonstration, Bradford swallowed

Page 988

the bait and agreed to invest $5,000 in a black money transformation in exchange for a fifty-percent share of the cleaned money.

Things that seem too good to be true usually are. On October 21, Bradford withdrew $5,000 from a Massachusetts bank and brought the cash to Providence. In a hotel room there, the defendant and Chadheen sandwiched Bradford's money between sheets purported to be black money. The defendant then took the " sandwich" into the bathroom, doused it with chemicals, wrapped it with foil and tape, and gave the package to Bradford to hold (telling him that it would take roughly thirty minutes for the cleaning process to run its course). The defendant and Chadheen left Bradford with the package, which proved to contain nothing but soggy black paper.

In the same time frame, another potential dupe (Mark Falugo) contacted the Secret Service about a similar scam. At the authorities' behest, Falugo called the defendant and discussed a prospective black money transformation. Falugo offered to invest $25,000 and indicated that he had a friend who might be willing to invest four times that amount.

As the sting evolved, Fred Mitchell, an undercover Secret Service agent, assumed the persona of Falugo's friend. Falugo and Mitchell met with the defendant and Chadheen in Warwick, Rhode Island. Chadheen performed a cleaning demonstration for Mitchell. As before, the process appeared to work, and Chadheen allowed Mitchell to keep the cleaned money (two $100 bills). Mitchell was also shown glossy photographs of stacks of black money and what appeared to be genuine bills.

Mitchell subsequently arranged to meet with the defendant and Chadheen to clean a large sum of black money. He purported to bring $100,000 in cash to the meeting. The defendant and Chadheen showed him bundles of what they claimed to be blackened currency, which in fact consisted of nothing more than black construction paper. Without further ado, the Secret Service arrested the defendant and Chadheen.

A federal grand jury charged the defendant, inter alia, with two counts of passing altered obligations of the United States with intent to defraud, see 18 U.S.C. § 472, and one count of inducing the interstate transportation of currency with intent to defraud, see id. § 2314.[1] At trial, the government presented a plenitude of evidence, including testimony of Bradford and Mitchell, recordings of two of Mitchell's meetings with the scam artists, and tapes of various telephone conversations. The jury found the defendant guilty on ...


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