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United States v. Lanier

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 2, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee
PATRICK LANIER, Defendant-Appellant

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

          Before REAVLEY, ELROD, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.


         Patrick Lanier was indicted and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1349 (Count 1); wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Counts 2-15); harboring and concealing a person from arrest, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1071 (Count 16); and assisting a federal offender, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3 (Count 17). A jury convicted him on each count save Count 14. Lanier received a sentence of 204 months in prison based on the fraud-related convictions and a concurrent 22-month sentence based on the Counts 16 and 17 convictions. The district court also sentenced him to three years of supervised release and ordered a $1, 600 special assessment and restitution in the amount of $37, 544, 944.16. Challenging his conviction and sentence, Lanier appeals.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case features complex facts spanning several years. We supply only those necessary to make sense of the following discussion. Patrick Lanier was once a successful securities lawyer practicing in Austin, Texas. Somewhere along the way, Harris Dempsey Ballow became a client. Lanier provided Ballow with legal services relating to criminal cases and SEC investigations. In 2000, Ballow was involved with a company called EpicEdge and paid Lanier in EpicEdge stock. EpicEdge turned out to be part of a fraud scheme, and Lanier sold all of his shares just before their value cratered. In 2003, Ballow was permanently enjoined from "engaging in the promotion of securities, " and Lanier (who was representing Ballow's co-defendant) knew of this.

         Lanier's initial involvement with Ballow did not lead him into legal trouble. Their union ended, for a time, in late 2004 when Ballow pleaded guilty to an 18 U.S.C. § 1957 violation then fled the country while released on bond, becoming a fugitive. The men renewed their relationship in 2006. Ballow was hiding in Mexico, and he needed a lawyer.

         In mid-2006, Lanier visited Ballow in Mexico for the first time. From that point on, he was Ballow's attorney once more. He assisted on numerous projects, providing legal assistance as problems arose. Ballow used false names during this period, and Lanier incorporated these false names into his work product. While Lanier and Ballow often communicated directly, sometimes long-time Ballow associate Ruben Garza Perez ("Garza") acted as an intermediary. Garza even set up a special email account for Lanier (the "patlawbest account"), and Lanier used this account rather than his professional account when working with Ballow.

         Ballow had not reformed. He was still engineering and implementing fraudulent schemes to bilk unsuspecting "investors." In Mexico, he primarily used E-SOL International Corporation ("E-SOL"), Medra Corporation ("Medra"), and Aztec Technology Partners, Inc. ("Aztec"). Lanier provided legal services for each of these fraud-facilitating corporations.

         Law enforcement never stopped looking for Ballow. Lanier monitored the manhunt and repeatedly supplied Ballow with updates on its progress. For example, in 2008 he provided Ballow with a link to a news article describing the ongoing search and indicating the FBI's belief that Ballow was in Mexico.

         The investigation eventually bore fruit. Ballow was arrested, and so was Lanier. With four other defendants, Lanier was charged in a thirty-five-count indictment. He faced 17 counts including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, harboring and concealing a fugitive, and assisting a federal offender. Unlike his co-defendants, Lanier went to trial. The jury convicted him on 16 of the charged counts, securing an acquittal only with respect to one count of fraud. In addition to a period of supervised release and a special assessment, the district court sentenced him to 204 months imprisonment. Lanier timely appealed.


         Lanier advances numerous arguments. They can be classified as follows: sufficiency of the evidence challenges, Brady challenges, evidentiary challenges, attorney-disqualification challenges, and sentencing challenges. We address them in that order.

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence Challenges

         1. Standard of Review

         Ordinarily, sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenges are reviewed de novo, with all evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the government and all reasonable inferences made in support of the verdict. United States v. Grant, 850 F.3d 209, 219 (5th Cir. 2017). If, under this standard, "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, " the conviction must stand. Id. (quoting United States v. Vargas-Ocampo, 747 F.3d 299, 301 (5th Cir. 2014) (en banc)). Our review is circumscribed still further when error is unpreserved. In such cases, "review is only for a manifest miscarriage of justice." United States v. McDowell, 498 F.3d 308, 312 (5th Cir. 2007). When this standard applies, the conviction will stand "unless the record is devoid of evidence pointing to guilt or if the evidence is so tenuous that a conviction is shocking." United States v. Delgado, 672 F.3d 320, 330-31 (5th Cir. 2012) (en banc) (quoting United States v. Phillips, 477 F.3d 215, 219 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         A motion for acquittal generally preserves sufficiency arguments for the purposes of appeal. See, e.g., United States v. Beacham, 774 F.3d 267, 272 (5th Cir. 2014). Here, Lanier moved for acquittal, but only with respect to Counts 16 and 17. Accordingly, his sufficiency challenge to those counts will be reviewed de novo, but ...

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