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United States v. Samuels

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 6, 2017

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
Tamie Marie Samuels Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: September 22, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Cedar Rapids

          Before LOKEN, ARNOLD, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.


         In March 2015, Tamie Marie Samuels ("Samuels") filed an alien relative visa petition (Form I-130) for the benefit of her new husband, Randell Samuels ("Randell"). The petition asked, "Have you ever before filed a petition for this or any other alien?" Samuels falsely checked "no." A jury convicted Samuels of knowingly making a false statement with respect to a material fact in an immigration matter in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a). The district court[1] sentenced her to three months in prison and three years of supervised release. Samuels appeals, arguing the district court erred in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence the false statement (i) was made knowingly, and (ii) was made with respect to a material fact. We review the sufficiency of the evidence de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and accepting all reasonable inferences that support the jury's verdict. United States v. Causevic, 636 F.3d 998, 1005 (8th Cir. 2011). We affirm.

         I. The Trial Evidence.

         At trial, documentary evidence established that Randell is Samuels's fourth husband. Samuels married Randell, a citizen of Jamaica, on February 3, 2015, two days after he entered the United States on a nonimmigrant visa. On March 12, 2015, Samuels filed the Form I-130 visa petition, and Randell filed a Form I-485 application for adjustment of status. In 1997, Samuels had filed a Form I-130 visa petition for her second husband, Temistocles Lobaton, which was approved in December 1997. Samuels falsely stated on the 2015 Form I-130 for Randell that she had never before filed a petition for any other alien. Samuels and Lobaton divorced in March 1999; Lobaton did not receive a visa. Samuels's third husband, Demone Square, was a United States citizen; they divorced in April 2010.

         United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Officer Justin Kaleas testified that he interviewed Samuels and Randell in June 2015 as part of the Form I-130 decision process. At the interview, Samuels confirmed that she had never filed a Form I-130 petition for any other relative. Two days after the interview, Kaleas approved Samuels's Form I-130 petition, unaware of the Form I-130 Samuels filed in 1997 on behalf of Lobaton. Kaleas testified that checking "yes" in response to the question, "Have you ever before filed a petition . . .?" is considered a "fraud indicator" that triggers inquiry into prior Form I-130 filings. USCIS examines the details of any prior petition, the status of that petition, and if the petition was found to be based on fraud. USCIS considers whether there is a pattern of fraudulently filing for and obtaining immigration benefits.

         Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Chris Cantrell testified that, in February or March 2015, he began investigating the fraudulent use of a passport belonging to Demone Square, Samuels's third husband. A non-U.S. citizen, Danny Darroux, had attempted to use this passport to enter the United States from St. Kitts. Cantrell testified that on March 4 -- one week before Samuels filed the Form I-130 here at issue -- he interviewed Samuels's parents and Randell regarding the passport. During the interview, Randell acknowledged that he would need to obtain an immigrant visa to remain in the United States.

         Cantrell testified that he reviewed the Form I-130s filed by Samuels in 1997 and 2015 and interviewed Samuels on September 11, 2015, as a part of his passport investigation. During the interview, Samuels stated that she had filed a Form I-130 in 1997 on behalf of second husband Lobaton, but believed she had cancelled the petition. Supervisory Officer Richard Moore testified that he accompanied Cantrell to this interview and confirmed that Samuels admitted filing the 1997 Form I-130. The government also submitted evidence that no one had cancelled or attempted to cancel the 1997 Form I-130.

         Neither Samuels nor any other witness testified for the defense. After the jury returned a verdict finding Samuels guilty of the offense, she filed a written Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and Conditional Motion for New Trial. The district court denied that Motion in a thorough nine-page Order.

         II. The Knowingly False Statement Issue.

         Samuels first argues that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that she made the false statement knowingly. The district court instructed the jury, without objection, that "[a]n act is done 'knowingly' if the defendant is aware of the act and did not act through ignorance, mistake or accident." See generally United States v. Dockter, 58 F.3d 1284, 1288 (8th Cir. 1995). Samuels argues the evidence was insufficient because she filed the prior Form I-130 eighteen years before the Form I-130 at issue without the assistance of counsel, Lobaton was not issued a visa, and the couple subsequently divorced, so "it is fair to assume that defendant had a good faith belief that the visa petition had been canceled."

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we agree with the district court there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Samuels knowingly made the false statement that she had never before filed a Form I-130 for any alien. Two witnesses testified that Samuels admitted during the September 2015 interview that she had previously filed an I-130 on behalf of Lobaton. As the district court observed, based on this admission, "which occurred shortly after her submission of the 2015 Form I-130, the jury could reasonably conclude that she remembered her previous filing of the 1997 Form I-130 at the time she stated that she had never filed a prior petition." Though the agents recalled Samuels saying that she believed the 1997 Form I-130 petition had been "cancelled, " there was no evidence the petition was cancelled, leaving a reasonable jury free to ...

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