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United States v. Miniet

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

March 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RALPH MINIET, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         After nearly two weeks of trial and deliberations, a jury acquitted Defendant Ralph Miniet of conspiracy to commit money laundering but failed to render a verdict as to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. [R. 300.] Upon motions by Dr. Miniet, the Court granted a partial verdict as to the money laundering and declared a mistrial as to the distribution charge. [R. 296.] Dr. Miniet has now filed a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal as to the distribution charge pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. [R. 328.] Dr. Miniet believes that no reasonable juror could find sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. However, because the Court finds such sufficient evidence, the Court DENIES Dr. Miniet's Motion.

         I

         Dr. Ralph Miniet was charged on November 5, 2015, with one count conspiracy to distribute pills containing oxycodone, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. [R. 1.] That indictment was superseded on March 24, 2016, to add conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A)(i). [R. 82.] According to the Superseding Indictment, Dr. Miniet, along with Rolando Boada, Maria Boada, and Sonia Castellon, owned, operated, and/or were employed by Angel's Medical Services. Id. at 2-3. Angel's was a pain management clinic in Miami, Florida, where, according to the Superseding Indictment, the Defendants illegally dispensed and distributed oxycodone by providing if for nonlegitimate medical purposes. Id. Specifically, groups traveled from southeastern Kentucky to Miami to be treated at Angel's and receive oxycodone pills, which were then resold throughout the Eastern District of Kentucky. Id. at 3-4. The Superseding Indictment alleges that Dr. Miniet and his Co-Defendants knew, or should have known, about this scheme to acquire and distribute those pills. Id.

         Before Dr. Miniet's trial, Co-Defendants Rolando Boada, Maria Boada, and Sonia Castellon all entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. [R. 246; R. 247; R. 248.] All three were sentenced on March 7, 2018. [R. 241; R. 242; R. 243.] All three testified at trial for the Government. [R. 321; R. 322.]

         During its case in chief, the Government presented evidence seeking to prove that Dr. Miniet knew about the illegal distribution of oxycodone and that he was a part of the conspiracy with Rolando Boada, Maria Boada, and Sonia Castellon. According to the Government's theory, Dr. Miniet knew or should have known that the patients at Angel's were acquiring oxycodone for distribution, and as the only physician on staff, he continued to write prescriptions for these patients, knowing they were using them for an unlawful purpose. [R. 319 at 17-25.] Dr. Miniet maintained that he was unaware of the conspiracy involving Ms. Castellon and Mr. and Mrs. Boada, specifically because their illegal actions were kept secret from Dr. Miniet. [R. 319 at 26- 33.] At the conclusion of the Government's case in chief, Dr. Miniet moved for a Judgment of Acquittal pursuant to Rule 29, which the Court denied. [R. 293.] Dr. Miniet renewed this motion at the close of trial, and the Court again denied the motion. [R. 294.] The jury began their deliberations on September 11, 2018, continuing on through September 12 and into the afternoon of September 13. [R. 294; R. 295; R. 296.] On September 13, the jury indicated they could not come to a unanimous decision concerning the distribution of oxycodone. [R. 301.] Following the grant of a mistrial, Dr. Miniet filed another Rule 29 motion. [R. 328.] After considering the arguments and the evidence presented by the Government during trial, the Court denies the request for post-trial relief.

         II

         A

         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 Dr. Miniet 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 Dr. Miniet was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charge of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone. At this stage, it is important to note that the jury did not return a verdict as to that count, however, a mistrial is not the same as an acquittal. A mistrial here was granted after the jury was unable to come to a unanimous decision as to Count 1. [R. 296; R. 301.] Simply because the jury could not come to a unanimous decision does not mean there was insufficient evidence for a conviction. Any implication by Dr. Miniet that a mistrial supports his Rule 29 motion is therefore misplaced.

         To find Dr. Miniet guilty of a conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs, the jury must find a conspiracy existed, Dr. Miniet knew of that conspiracy, and Dr. Miniet knowingly and voluntarily joined the conspiracy. United States v. King, 272 F.3d 366, 370 (6th Cir. 2001). The jury may infer knowledge of and participation in the conspiracy based on a defendant's “actions and reactions to the circumstances.” Id. (quoting United States v. Barrett, 933 F.2d 355, 359 (6th Cir. 1991).

         Dr. Miniet presents two arguments in support of his motion. First, he argues the Government presented no evidence that he knowingly and voluntarily joined the alleged conspiracy. [R. 328 at 8.] Next, he claims that there was no evidence he dispersed or distributed oxycodone for any purpose other than a legitimate medical one. Id. The Government argues that Dr. Miniet's motion is untimely, leaving the Court without jurisdiction to rule on the matter. [R. 329 at 3.]

         B

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