United States District Court, D. Nebraska
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
F. Rossiter, Jr. United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court on defendant Sharon
Williams-Combs's (“Williams-Combs”) oral
Motion for Judgment of Acquittal on Counts I, II, III, IV, V,
VI, VII, VIII, X, XI, XIII, and XIV of the Indictment.
See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29. In accordance with the
Court's Order dated April 6, 2018 (Filing No. 69),
Williams-Combs and the government each provided written
briefs. For the reasons stated below, Williams-Combs's
Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
February 22, 2017, Williams-Combs was charged with fourteen
counts of willfully aiding or assisting in the preparation or
presentation of a false or fraudulent tax return in violation
of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2). Those counts related to
Williams-Combs's preparation of tax returns for Denesha
Lockett (“Lockett”), Latonya Ashley
(“Ashley”), Shayla Irvin (“Irvin”),
Queeny McMillian (“McMillian”), Laquante Maxwell
(“Maxwell”), and Naquieta Harper
(“Harper”). At trial on those charges, each of
those six women testified for the government.
on what the government saw as some gaps or inconsistencies in
that trial testimony, the government sought to admit unsworn
statements the witnesses had previously made to investigators
about their income and expenses and the documentation they
provided to Williams-Combs. The government argued the
witnesses should be considered “unavailable” as
witnesses under Federal Rule of Evidence 804(a)(3) because
they testified to having trouble remembering some key facts.
The Court sustained Williams-Combs's objection to the
government's use of those prior statements as substantive
evidence but permitted the government to present prior
statements from McMillian, Ashley, Irvin, and Lockett as
impeachment evidence. The Court instructed the jury to
consider that evidence not as proof of the facts at issue but
only to assist in determining witness credibility.
government also presented evidence from two Internal Revenue
Service (“IRS”) investigators, Special Agent Adam
Mulari (“Agent Mulari”) and Special Agent Erika
Harris (“Agent Harris”), and from IRS tax expert
Kristy Morgan. During the direct examination of Agent Harris,
the government played an audio recording of Agent
Harris's undercover interaction with Williams-Combs.
Agent Harris, who had posed as a taxpayer seeking tax
preparation services from Williams-Combs, testified
Williams-Combs told her how she could increase her return
with the Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”) by
adding income from a personal business. Agent Harris
explained Williams-Combs then amended an accurate return to
include a false Schedule C form and additional
personal-business income Williams-Combs knew Agent Harris had
jury also heard testimony from Diane Lamb
(“Lamb”), a representative of the company where
Williams-Combs worked at the time she prepared the tax
returns listed in the indictment. Lamb testified about the
company's operating procedures and the training
Williams-Combs received. She also testified the company's
records did not contain documentation of the income and
expenses claimed on the tax returns Williams-Combs prepared
that were listed in the indictment.
close of the government's case in chief, Williams-Combs
moved for a judgment of acquittal on all charges.
See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). The Court reserved
decision on the motion, and the case went to the jury. On
April 6, 2018, the jury found Williams-Combs guilty on all
counts. Except as to counts IX and XII, for which she
conceded there was sufficient evidence, Williams-Combs
renewed her motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule
29(c), arguing the evidence was insufficient to convict her
on the remaining counts. The Court permitted the parties to
brief the issues. They have done that, and this matter is
ready for decision.
Standard of Review
29(a) requires the Court to “enter a judgment of
acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is
insufficient to sustain a conviction.” “Evidence
supporting a conviction is sufficient ‘if any rational
trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the
crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'” United
States v. Boesen, 491 F.3d 852, 856 (8th Cir. 2007)
(quoting United States v. Weston, 4 F.3d 672, 674
(8th Cir. 1993)).
considering such a motion, “the district court has
‘very limited latitude.'” United States
v. Pardue, 983 F.2d 843, 847 (8th Cir. 1993) (quoting
United States v. Jewell, 893 F.2d 193, 194 (8th Cir.
1990)). The Court does “not weigh the evidence or
assess the credibility of witnesses; that is the province of
the jury.” United States v. White, 794 F.3d
913, 918 (8th Cir. 2015). “The fact that key testimony
was provided by cooperating [witnesses] does not undermine
the sufficiency of the evidence, as the jury is presumed to
take that fact into consideration when determining the
credibility of the witnesses.” United States v.
Peebles, 883 F.3d 1062, 1068 (8th Cir. 2018).
verdicts are not lightly overturned.” United States
v. Hood, 51 F.3d 128, 129 (8th Cir. 1995). “If
evidence consistent with guilt exists, [the Court] will not
reverse simply because the facts and circumstances may also
be consistent with some innocent explanation.”
United States v. Lundstrom, 880 F.3d 423, 436 (8th
Cir. 2018); accord United States v. Burks, 934 F.2d
148, 151 (8th Cir. 1991) (“If the evidence rationally
supports two conflicting hypotheses, the reviewing court will
not disturb the conviction.”). “Evidence
supporting conviction ‘need not preclude every outcome
other than guilty.'” United States v.
Pierson, 544 F.3d 933, 938 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting
United States v. Ramirez, 362 F.3d 521, 524 (8th
Cir. 2004)). “A conviction will be reversed only if,
after viewing the evidence most favorably to the verdict and
giving the government the benefit of all reasonable
inferences, no construction of the evidence supports the
jury's verdict.” United States v. Worman,
622 F.3d 969, 977 (8th Cir. 2010).