United States v. Paul, No. 09-3191-cr (2d Cir. March 7, 2011) (Cabranes, Chin, CJJ, Crotty, DJ)

Defendant Peter Paul pled guilty to securities fraud, in connection with a stock manipulation scheme that permitted him to fraudulently obtain multi-million dollar margin loans, which he never repaid, from two brokerage houses. The district court sentenced Paul principally to 120 months’ imprisonment and more than $11.4 in restitution.

He raised three main claims on appeal, all without success.

At a pretrial conference, the district judge remarked that he had a reputation for giving a Guideline sentence after trial but for being lenient with defendants who pled guilty. The judge also remarked that the twenty-five months Paul spent fighting extradition in Brazil - he apparently fled there as his scheme was unraveling - would not be credited if he did not plead guilty. On appeal, Paul claimed that these remarks violated Fed.R.Cr.P. 11(c)(1), which forbids the district court from participating in plea discussions. The court rejected a “bright-line” rule in assessing Rule 11(c)(1) claims, noting that such issues are “highly fact-specific.” The the judge made the first remark in the context of setting a trial date - not about Paul specifically. The second remark, in context, was of even less concern to the court; it was clearly related to the court’s effort to find a way to release Paul on bail and not to coerce a plea. Moreover, any Rule 11(c)(1) violation here was harmless; Paul was not present when the remarks were made, pled guilty several months later, affirmed in the plea that he was doing so voluntarily, and neither he nor his attorney ever objected to the statements.

Paul also claimed, again for the first time on appeal, that the nearly four-year delay in his sentencing violated his right to a speedy sentencing. But the court found no plain error. Most of the delay was due to prosecutorial negligence, which “does not weigh as heavily as would an intentional delay,” and one year of the delay was attributable “solely to Paul’s request for adjournments.” In addition, Paul could identify no actual prejudice resulting from the delay other than his anxiety over the uncertainty of what would happen to him.

Finally, Paul challenged the restitution order, which required him to repay the losses to the brokerage houses that extended the margin loans. He argued that those losses were caused by the declining stock price, which left the institutions without the collateral necessary to recover the money they lent. The circuit disagreed because the losses were not caused by a decline in stock value, they were caused by “the making of the loans in the first instance,” and Paul clearly obtained the loans fraudulently.