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United States v. Watson

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 28, 2018

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Pierre Watson Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: January 12, 2018

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before COLLOTON, BENTON, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.

         Pierre Watson and two co-defendants were charged with multiple offenses related to a counterfeiting scheme. Watson pled guilty to the following charges: conspiracy to defraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count One); bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344 (Count Two); and passing counterfeit securities in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 513(a) (Count Nine).[1] Following a bench trial, the district court[2] found Watson guilty of three additional charges: passing counterfeit securities in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 513(a) (Count Eight); possessing an implement suitable for making counterfeit securities in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 513(b) (Count Eleven); and tampering with a witness in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1) (Count Twelve).[3]

         The court sentenced Watson to 60 months' imprisonment on Count One and concurrent terms of 84 months' imprisonment on Counts Two, Eight, Eleven, and Twelve. The court directed that the sentences imposed be "consecutive to any sentence imposed in United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, under Docket Number 4:16CR00336 JAR and the sentence under Docket Number 4:15CR00350 CDP."[4]

         Watson raises three issues on appeal: (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction on Count Eleven; (2) the district court exceeded its authority by directing the sentence to run consecutive to a sentence in another case that had not yet been imposed; and (3) the district court abused its discretion by refusing to allow him to withdraw his guilty pleas to Counts One and Two. We affirm.

         I.

         On August 30, 2014, Maryland Heights, Missouri, police officers approached a stopped car and found Watson in the driver's seat. Watson was arrested on several outstanding warrants. An inventory search of the vehicle revealed the following items: four counterfeit payroll checks; a business check in the name of an insurance company; two pieces of perforated check stock; copies of a deposit ticket containing images of two checks drawn on a Bank of America account belonging to the Law Offices of J.P.; two photocopies of checks drawn on an Enterprise Bank and Trust account belonging to the law firm, Sher & Shabsin, P.C.; and a social security card that was not issued to Watson.

         The investigators discovered that from August 10 through August 19, 2014, the conspirators successfully passed six counterfeit checks drawn on the Enterprise Bank account of Sher & Shabsin. One of these checks, written for $465.90, was deposited into an account at U.S. Bank by co-defendant Shontell Hill.

         The counterfeit Sher & Shabsin checks were similar, but not identical, to the two photocopied Sher & Shabsin checks seized during the inventory search. The name of the bank, the bank routing number, and the five digit length of the check numbers matched Sher & Shabsin's account. On the counterfeit checks, a transposed letter changed "Sher & Shabsin" to "Sher & Shasbin." The counterfeit checks also omitted the last digit of the law firm's account number, modified the number of signature lines, inserted a law firm logo, removed Enterprise Bank's logo, and included language that the check was "VOID AFTER 90 DAYS" and "Do Not Cash If Amount Exceeds $10, 000.00."

         Watson admitted during the plea colloquy that the conspirators engaged in a scheme to defraud U.S. Bank, Enterprise Bank, and Sher & Shabsin, P.C. He further admitted that as a part of the scheme he "obtained fraudulent checks that were either made by himself or given to him by another member of the conspiracy to give to Shontell Hill [a named co-conspirator] to deposit in her bank account." At trial, Watson stipulated that he was in possession of the photocopied Sher & Shabsin checks on August 30, 2014. He contests whether the photocopied checks constitute a "template" or "implement" adequate to meet the statutory requirement that the items be particularly suited for making a counterfeit or forged security.

         II.

         A.Sufficiency of the Evidence on ...


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