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United States v. Fernandez

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 17, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JUAN BRAVO-FERNÁNDEZ, Defendant, Appellant. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
HÉCTOR MARTÍNEZ-MALDONADO, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge

          Martin G. Weinberg, with whom Kimberly Homan, were on brief, for appellant Bravo-Fernández.

          Abbe David Lowell, with whom Christopher D. Man and Winston & Strawn LLP were on brief, for appellant Martínez-Maldonado.

          Vijay Shanker, U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Appellate Section, with whom Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew S. Miner, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Peter M. Koski, Public Integrity Section, and Gwendolyn Amelia Stamper, Public Integrity Section, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Because everything old is new again, [1] Defendants Juan Bravo-Fernández ("Bravo") and Héctor Martínez-Maldonado ("Martínez") come before us for a third time. See United States v. Bravo-Fernández, 790 F.3d 41 (1st Cir. 2015); United States v. Fernández, 722 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2013). In this appeal, they seek to overturn their 2017 convictions for federal program bribery under 18 U.S.C. § 666, arguing primarily that evidence stipulated to early in the proceedings was insufficient to convict.

         Among the elements of § 666, the government was required to establish that the entity Martínez represented as an agent, in this case the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, received at least $10, 000 in federal "benefits" within the meaning of that statute. The government did not meet this burden. Accordingly, we must reverse defendants' convictions for federal program bribery.

         I.

         The pertinent facts and procedural background are examined in detail in Bravo-Fernández, 790 F.3d at 43-45, and Fernández, 722 F.3d at 6-8, for which we only sketch a high-level overview of that account here.

         This case traces its origin to 2010, when Bravo and Martínez were charged with federal program bribery in violation of § 666, among other things. The charges stemmed from payments that Bravo made in 2005 involving a trip to Las Vegas to which he invited Martínez, then a Puerto Rico senator. According to the government, Bravo used the trip to bribe Martínez in exchange for his support of pending legislation that would have favored Bravo's business, Ranger American, a local security company.

         Bravo and Martínez were first tried and found guilty of federal program bribery in 2011, an outcome which they successfully challenged before this court. See Fernández, 722 F.3d at 6, 39. In that initial appeal, we ruled that § 666 only criminalizes bribery, not gratuities, and that the evidence presented at trial, together with the jury instructions, could have led the jury to improperly convict on either a "bribery" or "gratuity" theory. Id. 16-17, 23-26. Because it was insufficiently clear to discern which theory the jury relied on to reach its verdict, we vacated defendants' convictions on the § 666 counts and remanded for potential re-prosecution. Id. at 26-28, 39.

         On remand, Bravo and Martínez moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing that double jeopardy barred their renewed prosecution. Bravo-Fernández, 790 F.3d at 43, 49. The district court rejected this contention, after which defendants sought refuge before our court once again. Id. at 43. This time, however, defendants' appeal was unsuccessful and we affirmed the district court's decision on the double jeopardy issue. Id. Defendants' further appellate endeavor before the Supreme Court reached a similar result. See Bravo-Fernández v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 352 (2016).

         Bravo and Martínez faced their second trial in May 2017, and once again a jury found them guilty of federal program bribery under § 666. Those proceedings devolved into the instant ...


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