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United States v. Martinez-Lopez

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 3, 2019




         Before the Court is a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, filed by Defendant Antonio Ramon Martinez-Lopez (ECF No. 396). The Government has filed a response to the motion (ECF No. 421), accompanied by affidavits from Defendant's trial attorneys (ECF Nos. 417, 418), and Defendant has filed a reply (ECF No. 423). The Government argues that Defendant's grounds for relief are meritless. The Court agrees with the Government. Accordingly, for the reasons herein, the motion under § 2255 will be denied.

         I. Background

         In March 2016, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Defendant and several co-defendants with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, health care fraud, and mail fraud. As the case progressed, the grand jury returned several superseding indictments. In February 2017, the grand jury returned a fourth superseding indictment (ECF No. 229), charging Defendant and Co-Defendants Belkis Soca-Fernandez and David Sosa-Baladron with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud (Count 1), 12 counts of health care fraud (Counts 2-13), and 8 counts of mail fraud (Counts 14-21). It also charged Defendant with one count of unlawful procurement of naturalization (Count 22).

         The charges against Defendant stemmed from his involvement in a scheme to submit fraudulent claims to automobile insurance companies. Defendant operated a business called Revive Therapy Center, L.L.C., in Wyoming, Michigan. Later, he and his co-defendants established Renue Therapy in Lansing, Michigan, and H&H Rehab Center in Wyoming, Michigan. Defendant worked with Soca-Fernandez and Sosa-Baladron to recruit others to stage automobile accidents and then seek physical therapy that was unnecessary or was not provided. Defendants submitted false claims for this therapy through Revive and the two other clinics, and the insurance companies paid these claims until they discovered that the claims were fraudulent.

         After Defendant was arrested on April 20, 2016, he retained attorney Kurt Richardson to represent him. Over the next seven months, Defendant made or joined three requests to postpone the trial date to permit more time to prepare for trial. (Consent to Adjournment/Waiver ECF Nos. 66, 125, 172.) The Court granted those requests.

         On January 19, 2017, Richardson asked the Court for permission to withdraw as counsel, contending that the relationship between him and Defendant had broken down due to a “failure of communication and the meaningful exchange of information necessary and required for an effective defense and representation.” (Mot. to Withdraw, ECF No. 195, PageID.705.) Among other things, Richardson contended that Defendant “has not responded in a timely manner of [sic] requests to sign court documents or to provide information essential to an effective defense . . . .” (Id., PageID.706.) The Court scheduled the motion for a hearing on January 30, requiring Defendant to be present at the hearing. Defendant did not show up for the hearing, however, so the Court issued a warrant for his arrest. The Court also granted the motion to withdraw.

         On February 8, 2017, the Court appointed Geoffrey Upshaw to represent Defendant. Upshaw promptly asked the Court to postpone the trial, which was scheduled for March 7, 2017, so that he could review the discovery material and prepare for trial. (Mot. for Ends of Justice Continuance, ECF No. 214.) Upshaw contended that Richardson had focused exclusively on plea bargaining, and had not prepared for trial; Richardson had not interviewed or subpoenaed any potential witnesses or developed a theory of defense. In the alternative, Upshaw asked the Court to sever Defendant's trial from that of his co-defendants.

         The Court denied the motion for a continuance and/or severance, noting the many prior delays in the case and the fact that Defendant contributed to the circumstances giving rise to his request. (Order, ECF No. 220, PageID.815.) He did not cooperate with his previous attorney for many months, and by failing to attend the hearing on his attorney's motion to withdraw, he left the Court without explanation for his lack of cooperation.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial beginning on March 7, 2017. At the end of the trial, the jury found Defendants guilty of all the counts against them. On July 24, 2017, the Court sentenced Defendant to a prison term of 87 months for all counts.

         Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed this Court's judgment in an opinion issued on August 23, 2018. See United States v. Martinez-Lopez, 747 Fed.Appx. 326 (6th Cir. 2018). Defendant appealed that decision to the United States Supreme Court, which denied a petition for writ of certiorari on February 19, 2019.

         In Defendant's motion under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, he raises the following grounds for relief:

I. [I]neffective assistance of counsel based on initial counsel's untimely withdrawal from the case and counsel's failure to investigate the case and prepare for trial.
II. Trial counsel was ineffective because counsel compelled [Defendant] to provide post-conviction cooperation which included Grand jury testimony yet counsel failed to deliver on the promise of a Rule 35(b) reduction which was Movant's understanding of the agreement with the government for his post-conviction cooperation.
III. Appellate counsel failed to raise a recent Supreme Court case, Maslenjak v. United States, 137 S.Ct. 1918 (2017), in appeal even though the decision in this case would have overturned [Defendant's] conviction for Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization.

(§ 2255 Motion, ECF No. 396, PageID.4056, 4057, 4059.)

         II. Standards

         A. Merits

         A prisoner who moves to vacate his sentence under § 2255 must show that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such a sentence, that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or that it is otherwise subject to collateral attack. 28 U.S.C. § 2255. To prevail on a § 2255 motion “a petitioner must demonstrate the existence of an error of constitutional magnitude which had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the guilty plea or the jury's verdict.” Humphress v. United States, 398 F.3d 855, 858 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Griffin v. United States, 330 F.3d 733, 736 (6th Cir. 2003)). Non-constitutional errors are generally outside the scope of § 2255 relief. United States v. Cofield, 233 F.3d 405, 407 (6th Cir. 2000). A petitioner can prevail on a § 2255 motion alleging non-constitutional error only by establishing a “fundamental defect which inherently results in a ...

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