United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
OPINION & ORDER
K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE
matter is before the Court on defendant Bassam Manna
Alfroukh's motion for a judgment of acquittal (DE 57) and
motion for a new trial (DE 58). For the following reasons,
both of Alfroukh's motions will be DENIED.
federal grand jury indicted Alfroukh in August 2016 on six
counts: one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire
fraud; four counts of mail fraud, aiding and abetting; and
one count of conspiracy to commit arson. (DE 1). As the Court
has explained before (DE 41), this case arose out of a scheme
to set fire to a rental home in order for the owner,
Alfroukh, and the renters, Jennifer Rawlings and Rondale
McCann, to obtain insurance proceeds for the losses.
waived his right to a jury trial (DE 35) pursuant to Federal
Rule of Criminal Procedure 23(a). After a two-day bench
trial, the Court found Alfroukh guilty on all counts alleged
in the indictment. (DE 38). Following the trial, the Court
issued written supplemental findings of fact. (DE 41).
Alfroukh now moves for a judgment of acquittal and a new
motion for a judgment of acquittal, Alfroukh argues that the
evidence was insufficient to support convictions on the
counts alleged in the indictment. “The standard for
determining whether a motion for a judgment of acquittal
should be granted is whether, after viewing the evidence in
the light most favorable to the prosecution, any
rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”
United States v. Gibson, 409 F.3d 325, 332 (6th Cir.
2005) (emphasis in original) (internal citations omitted);
see also United States v. Gravely, 282 F. App'x
401, 404 (6th Cir. 2008) (applying sufficiency of the
evidence standard when reviewing a motion for a judgment of
acquittal after a bench trial). “The Court affords the
Government ‘the benefit of all inferences which can
reasonably be drawn from the evidence, even if the evidence
is circumstantial.'” United States v.
Groves, No. 5:12-CR-00043-TBR, 2015 WL 94141, at *1
(W.D. Ky. Jan. 7, 2015) (quoting United States v.
Carter, 355 F.3d 920, 925 (6th Cir. 2004)).
Alfroukh argues that this Court erroneously assigned
credibility to the testimony of Jeffrey Willis. However,
because Alfroukh decided to proceed by bench trial in this
matter, the Court is being asked to reweigh the credibility
determinations made at trial, which it could not do had this
case been tried before a jury. See Id. (citing
Carter, 355 F.3d at 925). Still, as will be
discussed shortly, the Court's judgment was supported by
substantial and competent evidence upon the record as a
whole. See id.
motion for a new trial relies on the same facts as his motion
for a judgment of acquittal. Under the Federal Rules of
Criminal Procedure, the Court, upon a defendant's motion,
may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest
of justice so requires. Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). “If the
case was tried without a jury, the Court may take additional
testimony and enter a new judgment.” Id.
argues that the Court's verdict was against the manifest
weight of the evidence. Generally, a motion for a new trial
arguing such grounds will only be granted “in the
extraordinary circumstance where the evidence preponderates
heavily against the verdict.” United States v.
Hughes, 505 F.3d 578, 592-93 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal
crux of Alfroukh's motions is that the Court improperly
found certain portions of Willis' testimony to be
credible. However, as the Court explained on the bench after
listening to the evidence in real time (DE 38; DE 63), and as
it explained in its supplemental findings of fact issued
within days of the bench trial (DE 41), the Court did not
rely solely on Willis' testimony in reaching a
guilty verdict on each count alleged in the indictment.
instance, on the arson-conspiracy count, the Court also found
the supporting testimony of Jason Bledsoe to be credible.
Bledsoe testified that Alfroukh paid for a drop
phone for Willis and Bledsoe to use when
committing the arson and that Alfroukh told Bledsoe to keep
an eye on Willis during the arson. (DE 54, Tr. at 200-02).
Bledsoe also testified that Alfroukh had conversations
regarding the arson right before it occurred. (DE 54, Tr. at
other credible evidence supported the Court's guilty
verdict on the count alleging a conspiracy to commit mail and
wire fraud. This evidence includes that Alfroukh raised the
policy limits on his property shortly before the fire (DE 54,
Tr. at 238:22-25, 239:1- 6), that Rawlings obtained
renter's insurance shortly before the fire (DE 55, Tr. at
31:15-17), that Rawlings and McCann moved valuable items out
of the house before the fire (DE 54, Tr. at 91-92), that
Alfroukh told Willis to “slow down” his visits to
Alfroukh's store (DE 54, Tr. 54, Tr. at 33:14-16), and
that Alfroukh had talked with Willis about Alfroukh's
homeowner's insurance (DE 54, Tr. at 203:23-25).
evidence further supported a guilty verdict on each of the
mail fraud counts because it established that Alfroukh
submitted his proof of loss claims and collected from his
insurance company on the losses, even though he knew the
claims were based on an arson in which he had a role.
counsel has filed strong pleadings on his behalf, but,
ultimately, this Court's previous decision was not based
on the credibility of Willis alone. Instead, the Court found
critical portions of Willis' testimony to be corroborated
by the testimony of other witnesses, including Bledsoe. As
this Court served as the trier of fact, it remains persuaded
by the evidence as established at trial.
of these reasons, and those the Court addressed when
rendering its verdict (DE 38; DE 63) and in issuing its
supplemental findings of fact (DE 41), Alfroukh's motion
for a judgment of ...