Unpublished Disposition, 921 F.2d 282 (9th Cir. 1987)

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US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 921 F.2d 282 (9th Cir. 1987)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,v.Amir TOUZIE, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 89-10595.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Submitted Nov. 13, 1990.* Decided Dec. 19, 1990.

Before GOODWIN, Chief Judge, and WALLACE and NELSON, Circuit Judges.


MEMORANDUM** 

Amir Touzie appeals his conviction following a jury trial of twelve counts of wire fraud, violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 2, and one count of conspiracy, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. We affirm.

Touzie's trial counsel and the government entered a written stipulation that was read in part to the jury and later placed into evidence. The stipulation detailed a 1985 scheme created by Al Ramsey1  to defraud poultry farmers in Hawaii. Ramsey claimed that he represented Saudi Arabian investors, including members of the royal family, who would loan millions of dollars to farmers who in turn would produce poultry products for shipment back to Saudi Arabia. The farmers were asked to provide funds to facilitate the transaction and to demonstrate their commitment to the deal. As a result of his false representations, Ramsey received over $200,000, an amount that includes the twelve wire transfers that were charged in Counts 1-12 of the Indictment.

In April 1985, Ramsey arrived in Hawaii with Touzie, whom he falsely portrayed as a Saudi Arabian prince, and Pedro John, whom he introduced as an expeditor. Over dinner with the poultry farmers, while Touzie was present, Ramsey stated that if the "prince" (Touzie) returned to Saudi Arabia and approved of the deal, investors would loan the poultry farmers $22 million to start the new venture. When questioned by John later that evening, Ramsey said he referred to Touzie as a prince in order to lend credibility to his claim that he had connections to the Saudi Arabian government. Touzie was present during the conversation.

At a later meeting at the Colony Surf Hotel, Ramsey and Touzie met with the poultry farmers and their attorney, Melvin Y. Kaneshige. At trial, Kaneshige described Touzie's role in the scheme:

[T]he prince's [Touzie's] role was key, because he was the one that was going to be producing the money and getting the contracts. Without that, there was nothing.

T.R. II: 85. Touzie testified, through an interpreter, that while he attended these meetings, he did not pay attention to what transpired.

At trial, Touzie claimed that his ability to speak English, on a scale of zero to ten, was approximately three and a half. The government, however, introduced substantial evidence demonstrating Touzie's proficieny in English. John testified that in the years that he had known Touzie, he had never experienced difficulty understanding Touzie's English nor did Touzie appear to have trouble understanding English. Martin Greenberg, Touzie's immigration lawyer, testified that when he prepared Touzie's visa application, Touzie stated he could speak, read, and write English. Harold D'Agostino, an investigator for the City of Los Angeles, testified that taxi drivers such as Touzie are required to speak, read, and understand English as a condition for obtaining a taxi permit.2 

After the meeting at the Colony Surf Hotel in April 1985, the Hawaiian poultry farmers made at least twelve separate wire transfers to Ramsey, ostensibly to obtain Saudi consent to the deal and to bribe Saudi officials. More than $173,000 was transferred by wire, and each of the twelve payments constituted a separate count of the indictment.

By an Indictment filed in the District of Hawaii on December 3, 1987, Touzie was charged with twelve counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 2, and one count of conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. After a jury trial on August 16-18, 1989, Touzie was convicted on all counts. Touzie was then sentenced to imprisonment for a total of seven years--two years for each of the twelve counts of wire fraud (with the sentences to run concurrently), and five years for the count of conspiracy (with the sentence to run consecutively)--and ordered to make restitution, jointly and severally with Ramsey and John, in the amount of $173,011.40 to the victims.

Touzie argues that insufficient evidence was introduced at trial to sustain the wire fraud and conspiracy convictions. "In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, this court must determine 'whether a reasonable jury, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, could have found the defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of each essential element of the crime charged.' " United States v. Hernandez, 876 F.2d 774, 777 (9th Cir.) (quoting United States v. Douglass, 780 F.2d 1472, 1476 (9th Cir. 1986)), cert. denied, 110 S. Ct. 179 (1989).

With respect to the allegations of wire fraud, the jury could convict Touzie only if it found that Ramsey had committed the offense and Touzie either (1) aided and abetted, (2) knowingly joined the scheme, or (3) was a co-conspirator. Touzie does not challenge either this jury instruction or deny that Ramsey committed the offense. Instead, Touzie contends that no evidence was introduced that sufficiently supports his conviction.

We have held that " [a]iding and abetting means to assist the perpetrator of a crime. An abettor's criminal intent may be inferred from the attendant facts and circumstances and need not be established by direct evidence." United States v. Cloud, 872 F.2d 846, 850 (9th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted), cert. denied, 110 S. Ct. 561 (1989). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, a rational trier of fact could have concluded that Touzie aided and knowingly joined the scheme in April 1985. Touzie was repeatedly introduced as a Saudi Arabian prince, and Ramsey stated that Touzie's function was to lend credibility to Ramsey's alleged contacts with the Saudi government. As Mr. Kaneshige testified: " [I]f the prince understood English, there would be no question that he understood that his was a key role ... and that he was being portrayed as the Prince of Saudi Arabia from whom all the moneys would be flowing." Touzie's claim that his language impediment prevented him from understanding his role in the scheme is not persuasive. Similarly, his argument that he was introduced as "prince" because it is a translation of his first name, Amir, lacks merit.

We conclude there is sufficient evidence to support the finding that Touzie knowingly and willingly participated in the scheme to defraud. He allowed himself to be portrayed as a Saudi Arabian prince despite the fact that he in fact was a cab driver from Iran. Testimony at trial indicates that Touzie played an essential role in Ramsey's plan, and the evidence was sufficient to enable a reasonable jury to conclude that Touzie aided and abetted Ramsey in his effort. The district court judge properly ruled that "the evidence in this case more than supports the unanimous [guilty] verdict of the jury in all respects."

With respect to the allegation of conspiracy, the government had to prove three elements:

(1) an agreement to accomplish an illegal objective, (2) coupled with one or more acts in furtherance of the illegal purpose, and (3) the requisite intent necessary to commit the underlying substantive offense.

United States v. Pemberton, 853 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1988). Touzie observes that mere knowledge of the existence of a conspiracy, or mere association and activity with a co-conspirator, is insufficient to sustain a conviction. United States v. Basurto, 497 F.2d 781, 793 (9th Cir. 1974). Touzie claims that his association with Ramsey and presence at several business meetings are insufficient evidence to support conviction.

In evaluating Touzie's conspiracy claim, we have noted:

The agreement need not be explicit; it may be inferred from the defendant's acts pursuant to a fraudulent scheme or from other circumstantial evidence. An inference of the existence of a conspiratorial agreement may also be drawn "if there be concert of action, all the parties working together understandingly, with a single design for the accomplishment of a common purpose."

Cloud, 872 F.2d at 852 (citations omitted). From the evidence presented at trial, a rational jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Touzie, Ramsey and John agreed to defraud the Hawaiian poultry farmers. Touzie's portrayal of a Saudi Arabian prince lent credibility to the scheme and induced the farmers to transfer substantial sums of money to Ramsey. Touzie's intent may be inferred from the fact that he knowingly participated in the scheme and neither protested nor disclaimed his false identity.

The evidence introduced at trial was sufficient to support Touzie's conviction on all counts.

AFFIRMED

 *

The panel unanimously finds this case suitable for submission on the record and briefs and without oral argument. Fed. R. App. P. 34(a); Ninth Circuit Rule 34-4

 **

This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3

 1

Touzie's co-defendants, Al Ramsey and Pedro Emanuel John, entered pretrial pleas of guilty and are not parties to this appeal

 2

Touzie received a taxi permit on November 20, 1984 and renewed it in 1985. T.R. II: 169