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United States v. Joel

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

September 27, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WILLIAM O. JOEL

          ORDER

          STEVEN D. MERRYDAY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         William O. Joel timely moves (Doc. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence, and the United States responds (Doc. 7).

         Background

         Joel and two co-defendants, Maurice Vernon and Elton Lassiter, operated a profitable mortgage fraud scheme. Joel’s company, Investor’s Outlet, Inc., offered buyers money to purchase houses. Vernon recruited buyers and located houses. Lassiter, a mortgage loan processor, prepared fraudulent loan documents.

         During a ten-week period, a buyer with an annual income of less than $30, 000 purchased ten properties and borrowed $1.8 million. By inflating the properties’ purchase price, Investor’s Outlet received $297, 229.65 from the loan proceeds. Unable to pay the loans, the buyer ultimately filed for bankruptcy protection.

         Lassiter pleaded guilty and testified during a two-week jury trial. The jury found Joel and Vernon guilty of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements on a loan application. Joel was sentenced to 63 months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay $953, 461 in restitution. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the convictions and sentence.

         Substantive claims (ground one)

         Joel alleges violations of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause and the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. During trial, FBI Agent Leslie Nelson testified that Vernon - who declined to testify - reported that Investor’s Outlet, Inc. produced “double HUDs”:

We talked about how the HUDs, or the settlement statements, were done in his business in Investors Outlet and [Vernon] explained to me that the way they did them was they did double HUDs, is what he called them. And [Vernon] explained by way of an example that there would be one HUD prepared with a . . . correct price. There would be a second separate and independent HUD prepared at a higher price[.]

(Doc. 283 at 204) Also, the United States during opening argument referred to false invoices and during closing argument referred to “double HUDs.” (E.g., Doc. 280 at 43–44; Doc. 289 at 58–59)

         On direct appeal, the Eleventh Circuit rejected Joel’s Confrontation Clause challenge:

Leslie Nelson, a government witness, did not violate Joel’s Confrontation Clause rights by recounting Vernon’s statement that fraudulent settlement statements were made at Investor’s Outlet, the company that Joel owns. Although the testimony mentioned his business, independent testimony was necessary for the jury to connect that statement to Joel’s involvement in the scheme. Finally, the government did not violate Joel’s Confrontation Clause rights by referencing false invoices not admitted into evidence because the Confrontation Clause only limits the introduction of testimonial hearsay evidence, and an attorney’s arguments are not evidence.

United States v. Vernon, 593 Fed.App’x 883, 887 (11th Cir. 2014).

         Because the Eleventh Circuit rejected Joel’s Confrontation Clause challenge on direct appeal, Joel is procedurally barred from raising the same claim in a motion to vacate. Stoufflet v. United States, 757 F.3d 1236, 1239, 1242 (11th Cir. 2014). Similarly, Joel’s Due Process Clause challenge is procedurally defaulted because he neglected to raise the claim on direct appeal and because he demonstrates ...


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