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United States v. Lorenzo

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

January 10, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
PILAR GARCIA LORENZO

          ORDER

          Charlene Edwards Honeywell Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court upon the Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and, in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial (Doc. 89), filed on October 19, 2016. The Government filed a response in opposition (Doc. 90). Although the Government submitted over eighty exhibits documenting Lorenzo's fraudulent financial transactions and nine witnesses corroborating the charges against her, Lorenzo argues that the evidence was insufficient and did not support the jury's guilty verdict. The Court, having considered the motion and being fully advised in the premises, will deny Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and, in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial.

         I. Background

         The indictment charged Defendant Pilar Garcia Lorenzo with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349; conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h); and money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957. Co-defendant Amaury Perez, who faces the same charges, is currently a fugitive.

         Lorenzo's charges arise from her participation in a home health care fraud scheme which she executed through a purported home health care agency in Tampa named Gold Care Home Health Services, Inc. (“Gold Care”). Lorenzo established Gold Care as its President and owner and enrolled Gold Care in the Medicare program. Over a two year period, Lorenzo submitted through Gold Care, 42 requests for anticipated payment (“RAPs”) per month to Medicare. In July 2014, Perez became the new President and co-owner of Gold Care. In the two months following, the Defendants submitted over 800 RAPs through Gold Care for services that were neither legitimately prescribed nor performed. Medicare paid Gold Care approximately $2.4 million dollars based on the submitted RAPs. Lorenzo, in conjunction with Perez, laundered the proceeds through various transactions including between and among personal bank accounts, cash transactions, and shell company cash checking agencies.

         Following Lorenzo's jury trial, the jury found Lorenzo guilty of all three charges against her, including the objects of both conspiracy charges.

         II. Legal Standard

         The court may set aside a guilty verdict and enter a judgment of acquittal if it finds the evidence insufficient to sustain a conviction. Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c). In deciding a Rule 29 motion, a district court must “determine whether, viewing all evidence in the light most favorable to the [g]overnment and drawing all reasonable inferences and credibility choices in favor of the jury's verdict, a reasonable trier of fact could find that the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” U.S. v. Grigsby, 111 F.3d 806, 833 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting U.S. v. O'Keefe, 825 F.2d 314, 319 (11th Cir. 1987)). To challenge a jury's guilty verdict on the ground of insufficiency of the evidence, it must be established that “no reasonable jury could have found Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on the evidence presented.” U.S. v. Ruiz, 253 F.3d 634, 639 (11th Cir. 2001).

         Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that “the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). Rule 33 allows the district court to weigh the evidence and consider the credibility of the witnesses. But, to grant such a motion “[t]he evidence must preponderate heavily against the verdict, such that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand.” Butcher v. United States, 368 F.3d 1290, 1297 (11th Cir. 2004).

         Rule 29 and Rule 33 have slightly different standards. On a motion for judgment of acquittal, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, and, under that light, determine whether the evidence is sufficient to support the verdict. U.S. v. Martinez, 763 F.2d 1297, 1312 (11th Cir. 1985). Therefore, under Rule 29, the court assumes the truth of the evidence offered by the prosecution. Id. But, on a motion for a new trial based on the weight of the evidence, the court may weigh the evidence and consider the credibility of the witnesses. Id. If the court concludes that, “despite the abstract sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the verdict, the evidence preponderates sufficiently heavily against the verdict that a serious miscarriage of justice may have occurred, it may set aside the verdict, grant a new trial, and submit the issues for determination by another jury.” Id. (quoting U.S. v. Lincoln, 630 F.2d 1313, 1319 (8th Cir. 1980)).

         III. Discussion

         Lorenzo was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1349; 18 U.S.C. § 1956; and 18 U.S.C. § 1957. Section 1349 provides that “[a]ny person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense under this chapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.” 18 U.S.C. § 1349

         Further, Section 1956 provides that

(a)(1) Whoever, knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducts or attempts to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact involves the proceeds of specified unlawful activity--(A)(i) with the ...

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