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United States v. Oz

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 4, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MORAN OZ (2); BABUBHAI PATEL (3); LACHLAN SCOTT MCCONNELL (6); ELIAS KARKALAS (8); PRABHAKARA RAO TUMPATI (9); Defendants.

          Jacqueline Blaesi-Freed, Linda I. Marks, U.S. Department of Justice, and Roger J. Gural, U.S. Department of Justice, for the United States of America.

          Joseph S. Friedberg, Joseph S. Friedberg, Chartered, Robert D. Richman, for Defendant Moran Oz.

          JaneAnne Murray, Murray Law LLC, for Defendant Babubhai Patel.

          Marie Celine Pacyga and Ryan M. Pacyga, Pacyga and Associates, PA, for Defendant Lachlan Scott McConnell.

          Daniel L. Gerdts, John C. Brink, for Defendant Elias Karkalas.

          James E. Ostgard, Ostgard Law Office, Paul Daniel Schneck, Paul Daniel Schneck, LTD, for Defendant Prabhakara Rao Tumpati.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Government's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Duress and Evidence Relating to Paul Le Roux (“Gov't's Mot.”) [Doc. No. 690]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the Motion in part, denies the Motion in part, orders the parties to prepare for a hearing on issues presented in the Motion, and defers ruling on the remainder of the Motion until after that hearing is held.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendants Moran Oz (“Oz”) and Lachlan Scott McConnell (“McConnell”) are charged with various offenses related to their alleged involvement in unlawfully distributing prescription drugs over the Internet through an organization known as RX Limited (“RXL”). (See Indict. [Doc. No. 5].) Paul Le Roux (“Le Roux”), who is not a defendant in this case, is a “billionaire global criminal mastermind” who allegedly ran a multi-faceted criminal enterprise that included RXL. (McConnell's Reply to Gov't's Mot. to Exclude Evidence of Duress (“McConnell's Opp.”) at 1 [Doc. No. 725]; see Gov't's Mot. at 2.) At a prior hearing in this case, Le Roux admitted to murdering foreign nationals in other countries, trafficking drugs internationally, arming a “private security team” in Somalia, sending arms to the Philippines, and hatching a plan to sell fertilizer, which could be used to make explosives, and chemicals necessary to manufacture methamphetamines. (Gov't's Mot. at 2-3.) In 2014, Le Roux pled guilty in the Southern District of New York to various charges, including: (1) conspiracy to import drugs, (2) exporting prohibited technology to Iran (and, as part of that offense, participating in or causing six murders and soliciting a seventh), (3) computer hacking, (4) assisting an offender by paying a foreign official to impede the offender's extradition to the United States, and (5) offenses related to RXL including misbranding, mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. (Id. at 3.) Le Roux is awaiting sentencing on these charges. (Id.) The Government does not intend to call Le Roux as a witness in this case. (Id.)

         The Government anticipates that Oz and McConnell[1] will mount duress defenses at trial based largely on evidence relating to Le Roux. (Id. at 1.) However, the Government argues in relevant part that testimony related to duress should be excluded at trial because: (1) Oz and McConnell have not made the required prima facie showing of evidence in support of each element of duress, and (2) Le Roux's bad acts are irrelevant or otherwise inadmissible. (See id. at 4-13, 15-20.) In the alternative-if the Court refuses to exclude evidence related to the duress defenses outright-the Government requests a pretrial hearing requiring Oz and McConnell to proffer sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of duress. (Id. at 14, 20.)

         In response, Oz and McConnell concede that they intend to pursue duress defenses at trial and that these defenses will center largely on Le Roux. (See Oz's Opp. to Gov't's Mot. to Exclude Evidence of Duress (“Oz's Opp.”) [Doc. No. 728]; McConnell's Opp.) For instance, Oz contends that he believed Le Roux was a “sociopathic killer” and recounts how Le Roux allegedly “arranged for his henchmen to throw Oz in the ocean and fire a gun in circles around him. [Le Roux] made absolutely clear to Oz that he could expect the same treatment or worse if he took steps to leave Le Roux's employ.” (Oz's Opp. at 8, 10, 13; see Gov't's Mot. at 5-6 (describing the same event).) Oz also contends that in another instance he suffered an “aggravated assault at the hands of Le Roux.” (Oz's Opp. at 8.) McConnell describes Le Roux as “the most dangerous man in the world[.]” (McConnell Opp. at 1.) He recounts a time where Le Roux suspected McConnell and another individual of stealing from him and had the other individual murdered, but spared McConnell because Le Roux “needed him.” (Id. at 3; Gov't's Mot. at 8 (describing the same event).) However, neither Oz nor McConnell have proffered specific evidence in support of their duress defenses.

         Both Oz and McConnell argue that they should be allowed to present their duress defenses directly to the jury, without any pretrial examination of their evidence by the Court or the Government. (See Oz's Opp. at 1-3; McConnell's Opp. at 5-6.) In the alternative, they contend that their evidence is admissible and that they have satisfied any requirement to present a prima facie case as to the elements of duress. (See Oz's Opp. at 7-16; McConnell's Opp. at 2-6.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         The Eighth Circuit defines the affirmative defense of coercion as follows:

Coercion which will excuse the commission of a criminal act must be immediate and of such nature as to induce a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily injury if the act is not done. One who has full opportunity to avoid the act without danger of that kind cannot invoke the doctrine of coercion . . . .

United States v. Logan, 49 F.3d 352, 359 (8th Cir. 1995) (quoting United States v. May, 727 F.2d 764, 765 (8th Cir. 1984)). The closely related defense of duress contains the following elements:

(1) [the defendant] was under an unlawful and present, imminent, and impending threat of such a nature as to induce a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily injury; (2) that he had not recklessly or negligently placed himself in a situation in which it was probable that he would be forced to commit a criminal act; (3) that he had no reasonable, legal alternative to violating the law; and (4) that a direct causal relationship may be ...

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