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United States v. Sine

June 9, 2009




Movant Wesley F. Sine is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se with a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Movant stands convicted of mail fraud and is currently serving a sentence of 70 months in federal prison.

In its opinion affirming the conviction and sentence on direct appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals summarized the factual and procedural history of movant's case as follows:

Wesley Sine, a Utah lawyer, helped run a pyramid scheme that defrauded victims of more than two million dollars. Sine's role in the scheme was to reassure individuals that they were lending money to a legitimate real estate investor and that millions of dollars in legitimate collateral protected them in case of default...

... [Sine's co-defendant] Panthaky masterminded a wildly imaginative, bizarrely complex pyramid scheme in the late 1990s and early 2000s: First, he convinced victims that they were lending money to fund various real estate projects conducted by Alpha Funding Group, Inc. ("Alpha"), of which Panthaky was president. In making his pitch, Panthaky represented himself as a wealthy international financier and humanitarian who had led Alpha to great success, and promised potential "lenders" between twenty and one hundred percent interest on short-term loans. Using this persona and promise, Panthaky successfully solicited over five million dollars in loans. "Lenders" would receive a promissory note prepared by Sine as Alpha's lawyer and signed by Panthaky. In fact, the money provided by these "lenders" funded no legitimate projects. Instead, some of the money went to repay earlier "lenders" so that the pyramid scheme could continue, and some ended up in the personal coffers of Panthaky and his cohorts.

To reassure the victims, Panthaky promised them that in case anything went wrong with Alpha's projects, they would be protected by assets held in the Alpha Funding Group Trust ("Alpha Trust"). Sine was the trustee of Alpha Trust. In that capacity, he prepared and signed security letters to victims explaining that he would liquidate the trust if Alpha defaulted on loans. Both Sine and Panthaky stated on numerous occasions, including in the security letters, that the trust held $54 million in Ginnie Mae securities.*fn1 Almost always, the "lenders" were not repaid as promised and then experienced increasing difficulty in contacting Panthaky. Even after receiving complaints that the loans were not repaid on time, Sine continued to tell the victims that Alpha was a legitimate investment opportunity and had a track record of successful repayment of loans. When such excuses ran out and a "lender" continued to press for repayment, Sine would then play hardballby, for example, insisting that the promissory note did not allow the "lender" to demand liquidation of the collateral or by instigating litigation against the "lender."

By 2000, under pressure from a growing number of unpaid victims, Sine purported to attempt as trustee of Alpha Trust to liquidate the collateral, only to find out- for the first time, he maintained- that the forms establishing the trust's ownership of the securities were worthless. That the forms were worthless was quite true: Such forms could only transfer ownership of securities issued in paper format, but the Ginnie Mae securities referenced by Alpha Trust's forms existed only in an electronic format. Moreover, Ginnie Mae had no record that Alpha Trust, Alpha, Sine, Panthaky, or the Delmarva Timber Trust ("Delmarva")- the entity the defendants claimed had transferred the securities to Alpha- ever owned any of the securities referred to in the documents.

The main factual dispute at trial was whether Sine realized from the outset, rather than only after the victims demanded access to the collateral, that the supposed collateral was worthless. Sine testified during trial that he had a good faith belief that the trust legitimately owned the Ginnie Mae securities and made efforts to verify their ownership at the time the trust was established. One such effort, he represented, was a 1992 conversation with Jeffrey Franklin, a Maryland banker whose signature appears on the transfer forms. Sine also told the jury that when he learned in 2000 that the forms could not have transferred the securities, he entered into negotiations with Don Meddles, the current trustee of Delmarva, to obtain ownership of the securities. Sine ultimately filed several lawsuits in Utah, naming Meddles and Delmarva as defendants and supposedly seeking to recover the value of the securities... ...[T]he government indicted Sine in the Eastern District of California for mail fraud pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1341. A superseding indictment was filed in September 2004. That indictment alleged as the mail fraud a series of four letters sent in April and May 1999 between Clarence Trausch, a prospective "lender," and Renata Lee, an individual who was already a "lender" and whom the defendants had induced to seek out additional participants. In February 2005, a jury convicted Sine and his co-defendant Panthaky after one hour of deliberations. The judge sentenced Sine to seventy months in prison, which included an enhancement for lying during his trial testimony, and ordered him to pay $2.29 million in restitution.

United States v. Sine, 483 F.3d 990, 992-995 (9th Cir. 2007).


Movant claims that his conviction should be reversed for three reasons. First, he asserts that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to impose judgment because he was never arraigned on the superceding indictment filed by the government. He also claims that four material witnesses have recanted their testimony and that a fifth committed perjury. Finally, movant argues that his conduct as shown by the government's case does not constitute a legally valid basis for a mail fraud conviction. As set forth below, all the claims are without merit and no evidentiary hearing is warranted.


Section 2255 provides, in part, as follows: A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack, may move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. An evidentiary hearing will be warranted if the motion sets forth specific facts which, if true, entitle the movant to relief. See Jones v. Wood, 114 F.3d 1002, 1008 (9th Cir. 1997); see also 28 U.S.C. §2255(b). Affidavits ...

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