United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.
Clam Box in Glocester, Rhode Island sustained substantial
property damage after a fire tore through the building in the
early morning hours of November 20, 2014. After an
investigation, the owner of the restaurant, Daniel E. Saad,
was charged with setting that fire and filing a false and
fraudulent insurance claim on the loss. Ultimately, Mr. Saad
was indicted on two counts of wire fraud in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 1343, one count of the use of fire to commit
wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(h), and one
count of arson of a building in and affecting interstate
commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i) and 18
U.S.C. § 2. After a fourteen day trial where thirty-six
witnesses testified, including the Defendant himself, Mr.
Saad was convicted by the jury on all counts.
the Court is Mr. Saad's motion for acquittal under Rule
29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, made orally at
the close of the government's case and renewed at the end
of all of the evidence,  and his motion for a new trial under
Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. ECF No.
45. For the reasons set forth below, both motions are DENIED.
for Judgment of Acquittal
29 motion for judgment of acquittal is properly granted only
"when the evidence and all reasonable inferences to be
drawn from the evidence, both taken in the light most
favorable to the government, are insufficient for a rational
factfinder to conclude that the prosecution has proven,
beyond a reasonable doubt, each of the elements of the
offense." United States v. Pimental, 380 F.3d
575, 584 (1st Cir. 2004) (citing United States v.
Moran, 312 F.3d 480, 487 (1st Cir. 2002)). "Under
this formulation, a court considers all the evidence, direct
and circumstantial, and resolves all evidentiary conflicts in
favor of the verdict." Id. (quoting
Moran, 312 F.3d at 487); see also United States
v. Valerio, 676 F.3d 237, 244 (1st Cir. 2012).
Saad sought acquittal both at the end of the government's
case and again at the conclusion of all the evidence, arguing
that the government's evidence was insufficient to
sustain a conviction against him on each of the counts of the
indictment. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. He
argues that the jury reached the verdict based on speculation
and conjecture. The Court disagrees and finds that the
government put documents and testimony before the jury from
which they could have reasonably found him guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt on all counts.
the jury learned that the fire was no accident, nor was it
the result of a natural cause. The government's fire
investigator testified that the fire was deliberately set
based on the evidence he gleaned from his investigation into
burn patterns and the presence of gasoline near the pellet
jury heard about Mr. Saad's significant financial
difficulties stemming from his seasonal restaurant
businesses. The jury heard multiple former employees testify
that their paychecks bounced and that vendors refused to
deliver goods to Snow's Clam Box until outstanding
balances were paid. Mr. Saad also was delinquent on personal
loan payments. The jury learned that he had an insurance
policy in place covering damage losses to Snow's Clam
Box. Mr. Saad counters that the government ignored his assets
and equity when discussing his financial health with the
jury, but his counsel highlighted that data on cross
examination so the jury had the opportunity to weigh that
evidence as well. The jury could reasonably have found that
the evidence of Mr. Saad's financial situation supported
a finding of motive.
evidence was there as well. FBI Task Force Officer Leonard
Bolton testified about Mr. Saad's location at the time of
the fire using cell phone tower data. Mr. Saad was near his
restaurant at approximately 5 A.M. on a Sunday morning,
minutes before the fire alarm went off. It was reasonable for
the jury to conclude that his presence near the restaurant at
the time of the fire was suspicious, especially since his
home was almost an hour away. There was no credible evidence
explaining his presence near the restaurant at that early
morning hour. A reasonable jury could find, beyond a
reasonable doubt, that it would simply belie logic to believe
that it was merely coincidental that Mr. Saad happened to be
very near his restaurant, at 5 A.M. on a Sunday morning, an
hour away from his home, at the very same time his restaurant
started to burn.
to these core facts consistent with motive and opportunity is
that the jury could have believed that Mr. Saad knew his
actions would not be recorded because the video surveillance
system in the restaurant was gone, he knew that he would not
be detected because his employees consistently failed to set
the burglar alarm, and that he had likely left the door
leading into the back of the restaurant unlocked. All of
these factors in combination and with reasonable inferences
appropriately drawn lead this Court to confidently find that
the jury's verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on
the elements of each of the four counts was supported by
for a New Trial
Saad also moves for a new trial on two grounds: l) the weight
of the evidence is against the verdict because the evidence
was largely circumstantial; and 2) the interests of justice
so require because the government failed in its obligation to
provide exculpatory evidence under Brady v.
Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
remedy of a new trial is rarely used; it is warranted
'only where there would be a miscarriage of justice'
or 'where the evidence preponderates heavily against the
verdict.'" United States v. Andrade, 94
F.3d 9, 14 (1st Cir. 1996) (quoting United States v.
Indelicato, 611 F.2d 376, 386 (1st Cir. 1979));
accord United States v. Conley, 249 F.3d
38, 45 (1st Cir. 2001) ("The remedy of a new trial must
be used sparingly, and only where a miscarriage of justice
would otherwise result."). The Court may weigh the
evidence and evaluate the credibility of witnesses but should
defer to the jury's credibility assessment absent
"exceptional circumstances." United States v.
Merlino, 592 F.3d 22, 32-33 (1st Cir. 2010).
the Court has addressed and rejected Mr. Saad's
"sufficiency of the evidence" argument in its
discussion of his Rule 29 motion above, it will turn to his
Brady disclosure argument, which is essentially that
a new trial is in the interest of justice because the
government failed to adequately alert the defense to
potential exculpatory evidence. Under Brady,
exculpatory evidence is discoverable where it1(is
material either to guilt or to punishment." 373 U.S. at
87. '"Information is material if there is a
reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed
to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been