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United States v. Sauls

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

May 24, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Allison Amanda Sauls, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         On July 19, 2016, Defendant was indicted on nine (9) counts of wire fraud. (ECF No. 2 at 26-28.) On March 22, 2017, a Superseding Indictment was filed. (ECF No. 204.) On November 2, 2017, Defendant pleaded guilty to wire fraud, Count Fourteen (14) of the Superseding Indictment (ECF No. 204). (ECF No. 331.)

         On March 8, 2018, Defendant's Counsel James M. Griffin (“Griffin”) moved to withdraw as Defendant's counsel. (ECF No. 401.) The court set a hearing for March 29, 2018 on Griffin's Motion to Withdraw (ECF No. 401). (ECF No. 407.) On March 28, 2018, Defendant's other Counsel Karen C. Simmons (“Simmons”) moved to withdraw. (ECF No. 412.) On March 29, 2018, the court granted both of Defendant's counsel's Motions to Withdraw. (ECF Nos. 401, 412.) At the conclusion of the hearing, the court ordered that the case be referred to a Magistrate Judge for appointment of counsel. (ECF No. 417.) On the same day, Magistrate Judge Paige J. Gossett appointed a Federal Public Defender for Defendant. (ECF No. 422.) On April 13, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea (ECF No. 441), and on April 20, 2018, the Government responded (ECF No. 442).

         Before the court is Defendant's Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea (ECF No. 441). For the reasons stated below, the court DENIES Defendant's Motion.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(d)(2)(B), “a defendant may withdraw a plea of guilty . . . after the court accepts the plea, but before it imposes sentence if . . . the defendant can show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal.” “Courts typically consider a variety of factors in determining whether a defendant has met his burden under Rule 32(d) [in establishing that a fair and just reason supports his request to withdraw].[1] The factors include (1) whether the defendant has offered credible evidence that his plea was not knowing or not voluntary, (2) whether the defendant has credibly asserted his legal innocence, (3) whether there has been a delay between the entering of the plea and the filing of the motion, (4) whether defendant has had close assistance of competent counsel, (5) whether withdrawal will cause prejudice to the government, and (6) whether it will inconvenience the court and waste judicial resources.” United States v. Moore, 931 F.2d 245, 248 (4th Cir. 1991). Defendant has the burden of demonstrating that she should be permitted to withdraw her guilty plea. United States v. Sparks, 67 F.3d 1145, 1154 (4th Cir. 1995).

         The six factors enumerated in Moore were not meant to be applied mechanistically and each of the factors does not have to be given equal weight. See Sparks, 67 F.3d at 1154 (“The factors that speak most straightforwardly to the question whether the movant has a fair and just reason to upset settled systemic expectations by withdrawing her plea are the first, second, and fourth. In contrast, the third, fifth, and sixth factors are better understood as countervailing considerations that establish how heavily the presumption should weigh in any given case.”).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Defendant moves to withdraw her November 2, 2017 guilty plea (ECF No. 331) to Count Fourteen (14) of the Superseding Indictment (ECF No. 204). (ECF No. 441.) Defendant moves to withdraw her guilty plea on the basis that she has presented credible evidence that her plea was not “knowingly made” and that she has asserted legal innocence. (Id. at 4 ¶ 24.)

         a. Knowing and Voluntary Guilty Plea

         Defendant acknowledged that there was a joint venture between Boykin Contracting, Inc. (“BCI”) and Action Contracting (“Action”), and that she changed the names on certain bonds from Boykin Contracting Group (“BCG”) to BCI which was necessary in order to receive funding from Star Funding (“Star”). (ECF No. 442-2 at 18:4-13, 25:4-11.) Star is a secondary financing company which offered “factoring agreements”[2]. (ECF No. 442-1 at 4.) According to the proffer Defendant signed, Defendant set up Action for the purpose of completing a factoring agreement with Star. (Id. at 5.)

         Defendant asserts that her plea was not made knowingly because she did not acknowledge a fraudulent intent in changing the names on the bonds. (ECF No. 441 at 4 ¶ 25.) However, during the plea colloquy, the court took care to ensure that Defendant understood the crime to which she was pleading guilty and that Defendant understood the factual basis underpinning her guilty plea. (ECF No. 442-2 at 22:5-32:5.) Defendant agreed to the fact that she “accepte[d] payments on loans on accounts receivable that [were not] hers[, and that the accounts receivable] belonged to [BCI] not Action [which Defendant owns].” (ECF 442-2 at 26:8-12.) Defendant also agreed that she knew it was illegal to take the money given by Star and to wire it into a business account, and then to use it for personal items. (Id. at 27:2-10, 28:12-24.) Further, Defendant agreed to the fact that “the overall scheme [was] that [Action was] benefitting from monies that [Defendant] legally did not have a contract for.” (Id. at 29:7-10.)

         Given all of the court's questions and Defendant's knowledge of the facts and evidence against her, she still chose to plead guilty. (Id. at 30:25-31:4.) Additionally, Defendant was represented by counsel whom she agreed was competent, which further establishes that she made her plea knowingly and voluntarily.[3] (Id. at 4:25-5:2, 8:6-22.) Defendant has not provided other evidence to contradict her statements acknowledging her wrongdoing during the plea colloquy, from which the court accepted Defendant's guilty plea. Ultimately, Defendant has failed to present evidence which establishes that her guilty plea was not made knowingly or voluntarily. Therefore, the court finds that this factor weighs against Defendant being allowed to withdraw her guilty plea.

         b. Legal Innocence

         Defendant asserts that “. . . throughout the plea [she] denied that she knew she was doing anything wrong much less with any intent to defraud when she followed Thomas Brock's instructions to change the names ...


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