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United States v. Rodgers

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

October 23, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RONNIE C. RODGERS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge.

         After a two-week securities fraud criminal trial, Defendant Ronnie C. Rodgers filed a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. [R. 74.] Mr. Rodgers believes that no reasonable juror could find evidence of a conspiracy or could find sufficient evidence of Mr. Rodgers's involvement in such a conspiracy. However, because the Court finds evidence sufficient to sustain a conviction, the Court DENIES Mr. Rodgers's Motion.

         I

         Mr. Ronnie Rodgers was charged on December 7, 2017 with one count conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and securities fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1343, 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b), and 17 C.F.R. § 240-10b-5. [R. 1.] According to the indictment, from 2007 through 2017, Mr. Rodgers and his associates executed a scheme to sell oil and gas leases in geographical areas where Mr. Rodgers knew the leases would not produce enough oil or gas to provide a return of the investments. See id.

         Over the course of the trial, the Government presented evidence seeking to prove that Mr. Rodgers and his associates made materially false representations to potential investors designed to “induce investors to invest in oil and gas contracts; further induce them to provide additional funds after their first investment; and, to lull and pacify investors when they complained about a lack of return on their investment.” [R. 1 at 4.] According to the Government's theory, Mr. Rodgers and his brother operated Rick-Rod Oil Company, Inc. from 2007 to 2011, selling these investments, and then after 2011, Mr. Rodgers and others formed various companies in Tennessee: Big South Resources, Big South Energy, Hydro & Green Global Energy, LLC, and R&R Plus, LLC. Id. at 3. Counsel for the Government called numerous investors in Mr. Rodgers's various operations, all of whom testified that they believed Mr. Rodgers solicitated their investments and held himself out to be a partner in the operation. [R. 75 at 1.] The jury found Mr. Rodgers guilty of the one count indictment. [R. 64.]

         After the close of the Government's case in chief, Mr. Rodgers moved for a Judgment of Acquittal pursuant to Rule 29. [R. 59.] The Court took this motion under advisement. Id. At the close of trial, Mr. Rodgers renewed this motion, and the Court again took it under advisement. [R. 61.] Following the jury's verdict, he filed another Rule 29 motion. [R. 74.] After considering the arguments and the evidence presented by the Government during trial, the Court upholds the jury's verdict and denies the request for post-trial relief.

         II

         A

         As an initial matter, because the Court reserved decision on the motion after the close of the Government's proof, the Court must decide the motion on the basis of the evidence at the time the ruling was reserved. Fed. R. Crim. Pro. 29(b). The Court, therefore, only considers the evidence presented by the Government during its case in chief.

         Rule 29 requires this Court to enter a judgment of acquittal on “any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). When considering a Rule 29 motion based on an alleged insufficiency of the evidence, the Court may not reweigh the evidence, reevaluate the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of the jury. See United States v. Callahan, 801 F.3d 606, 616 (6th Cir. 2015). Instead, the Court views all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, and then it considers whether any rational trier of fact could find the elements of the counts of conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. See, e.g., United States v. Vichitvongsa, 819 F.3d 260, 270 (6th Cir. 2016); United States v. Villarce, 323 F.3d 435, 438 (6th Cir. 2003). “In sum, a defendant claiming insufficiency of the evidence bears a very heavy burden.” Callahan, 801 F.3d at 616 (quoting United States v. Jackson, 473 F.3d 660, 669 (6th Cir. 2007)). Because Mr. Rodgers has failed to sustain this burden, the Rule 29 motion is denied.

         A review of the trial evidence demonstrates that a rational trier of fact could conclude that Mr. Rodgers was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the single conspiracy conviction. Even though the Indictment charged Mr. Rodgers with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and securities fraud, the jury could find him guilty if the evidence sufficiently established a conspiracy to commit a violation of either mail fraud or wire fraud or securities fraud. See Sixth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction 2.12, Use of the Word “And” in the Indictment. To convict Mr. Rodgers with mail or wire fraud, the jury was required to find the development of or participation in a scheme to defraud, that he used the mails or an interstate wire communication in furtherance of the scheme, and that he possessed “intent to deprive a victim of money or property.” United States v. Ramer, 883 F.3d 659, 681 (6th Cir. 2018) (enumerating the elements of mail fraud); United States v. Olive, 804 F.3d 747, 753 (6th Cir. 2015) (enumerating the elements of wire fraud and noting, “Mail fraud has essentially the same elements [as wire fraud] except that the use of the mails rather than a wire is required.”). For the jury to convict Mr. Rodgers of securities fraud, the jury had to find that he used or employed a manipulative or deceptive device in contravention of 17 C.F.R. § 240-10b-5 in connection with the purchase or sale of a security. 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b). Accordingly, the jury had to determine that Mr. Rodgers (1) employed a device, scheme, or artifice to defraud, (2) made any untrue statement or omission of a material fact, or (3) engaged in an act, practice, or course of business, operating as a fraud or deceit. 17 C.F.R. § 240-10b-5. However, Mr. Rodgers was charged with conspiracy to one of these things, and thus, the jury only need to find that Mr. Rodgers joined in an agreement to commit mail, wire, or securities fraud, and that at least one person in the conspiracy committed an overt act in support of the conspiracy. United States v. Phillips, 872 F.3d 803, 806 (6th Cir. 2017).

         Mr. Rodgers presents three arguments in support of his motion. First, he argues the Government presented no evidence that two or more persons conspired to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, or securities fraud. [R. 74-1 at 3.] Next, he claims there was no evidence that Mr. Rodgers ever knowingly and voluntarily joined the alleged conspiracy. Id. Finally, he maintains that the Government presented no evidence that any member of the conspiracy committed an overt act after December 6, 2012. Id.

         B

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