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United States v. Weygandt

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 19, 2013



JOHN A. MENDEZ, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant William Hugh Weygandt's ("Defendant") Renewed Rule 29 Motion for Judgment of Acquittal (Doc. #247). The Government opposes the motion (Doc. #257) and Defendant replied (Doc. #270). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal is denied.[1]


On October 10, 2012, Defendant was indicted on a single count for Conspiracy to Commit Fraud Involving Aircraft Parts in Interstate and Foreign Commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 38 (Doc. #64). This crime arises out of Defendant's role as President and owner of WECO Aerospace Systems, Inc. ("WECO"), an aviation repair station. The Superseding Indictment alleges that Defendant conspired with various WECO employees to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") and WECO customers through improper repairs and overhauls on parts contrary to the representations made on the FAA Form 8130s ("8130s"). Following a three week jury trial, a guilty verdict was returned on Count I on November 4, 2013 (Doc. #260).


A. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(a) ("Rule 29(a)") "requires the trial court to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.'" United States v. Hazeem , 679 F.2d 770, 772 (9th Cir. 1982). Specifically, the court determines if "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. VonWillie , 59 F.3d 922, 928 (9th Cir. 1995). "The district court's function in reviewing a defendant's motion for acquittal is quite narrow. The court, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorably to the government, must determine whether the jury could reasonably find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Bernhardt , 840 F.2d 1441, 1448 (9th Cir. 1988). "[I]t is the jury's exclusive function to determine the credibility of witnesses, resolve evidentiary conflicts, and draw reasonable inferences from proven facts." Id . (citations omitted). Furthermore, pursuant to Rule 29(b), "If the Court reserves decision, it must decide the motion on the basis of the evidence at the time the ruling was reserved." Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(b). In this case, the Court reserved ruling on the motion after the close of all the evidence in this case.

B. Discussion

Defendant moves for acquittal on Count I, arguing that the evidence was insufficient for a rational juror to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant is guilty of conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 38. The Government counters that there was ample evidence to support Defendant's conviction.

To sustain a conviction in this case, the Government must prove the following: (1) that beginning no later than on or about October 26, 2006, and ending on or about February 15, 2008, there was an agreement between two or more persons to commit fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate or foreign commerce, and (2) that the defendant became a member of the conspiracy knowing of at least one of its objects and intending to help accomplish it. 18 U.S.C. § 38(a)(1)(A).

1. Agreement to Commit Fraud

The Government does not have to prove that an explicit agreement existed. United States v. Cloud , 872 F.2d 846, 852 (9th Cir. 1989). The agreement "may be inferred from the defendant's acts pursuant to a fraudulent scheme or from other circumstantial evidence." Id . (citations omitted). "An inference of the existence of a conspiratorial agreement may also be drawn if there be concert of action, all the parties working together understandingly, with a single design for the accomplishment of a common purpose." Id . (citations and internal quotations omitted); see also United States v. Hubbard , 96 F.3d 1223, 1226 (9th Cir. 1996) (same). Therefore, "[t]he agreement need not be explicit; it is sufficient if the conspirators knew or had reason to know of the scope of the conspiracy and that their own benefits depended on the success of the venture." United States v. Sullivan , 522 F.3d 967, 976 (9th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted).

Defendant does not dispute the existence of fraudulent behavior on the part of some WECO employees. Instead, he argues that there is no evidence of an agreement to commit fraud, relying on the testimony of several witnesses who testified that they neither expressly agreed to defraud customers or the FAA nor were ordered to do so. Mot. at 7-8. However, as the Government argues, conspiratorial agreements may be implicitly evidenced by a "concert of action." Defendant argues that the "concert of action" line of cases do not apply in this case because the parties did not work together with a shared understanding and because an inference of an agreement is permissible only when the nature of the acts would logically require coordination and planning. Reply at 23 (citing United States v. Iriarte-Ortega , 113 F.3d 1022, 1024 opinion amended on denial of reh'g, 127 F.3d 1200 (9th Cir. 1997)). However, evidence of coordination and a shared understanding exists here.

The Ninth Circuit has held, "Coordination between conspirators is strong circumstantial proof of agreement; as the degree of coordination between conspirators rises, the likelihood that their actions were driven by an agreement increases." Iriarte-Ortega , 113 F.3d at 1024. In this case, a jury could reasonably have inferred a conspiratorial agreement from all the coordinated actions. Sufficient evidence was presented at trial to show that Defendant knew WECO did not have the equipment to do the tests called for in the component maintenance manuals ("CMMs"). See e.g. Testimony of Howell at 20-24. Nevertheless, WECO employees continued to certify in 8130s that aircraft parts were overhauled in accordance with the CMMs. See id. at 23-24. In addition, there was evidence establishing that Defendant had a repeated pattern of ignoring requests for proper testing equipment even though he was the only person at WECO authorized to purchase equipment. See Testimony of Tony Zito, Doc. #250, at 20-24; Testimony of Michael Maupin, Doc. #253, 107-08. For example, Tony Zito testified that he stopped requesting equipment because Defendant routinely denied the requests; Matthew Mortimer testified that after Defendant declined to buy equipment, he understood that he was to do his job without the equipment; and Jerry Kuwata testified he presented Defendant with a quote on a varidrive, which was never purchased. Testimony of Tony Zito at 23-24; Testimony of Matthew Mortimer, Doc. #241, at 66; Testimony of Jerry Kuwata, Doc. #266, at 69-70. Defendant argues that this disagreement over the equipment shows that Defendant and the coconspirators opposed each other and consequently, there was no shared understanding. However, this argument is unpersuasive because the common purpose was not whether or not to purchase equipment; it was to defraud the FAA and WECO customers by skipping required tests due to the lack of equipment. Therefore, the "concert of action" consisted of Defendant refusing to ...

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