(nobeastsofierce – Fotolia)
Two men sentenced to pay back more than $5 million gained in a loansharking scheme will have to be resentenced in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent striking down joint and several liability for forfeiture orders, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled Aug. 11 in United States v. Gjeli that the Supreme Court’s June decision in Honeycutt v. United States invalidated the sentences of defendants Ylli Gjeli and Fatmir Mustafaraj. The men had been convicted in connection with an illegal moneylending and gambling ring, and were both sentenced to serve about 150 months in prison.
The trial court had also entered orders for forfeiture, making the two jointly and severally liable for the money they earned as part of the crime ring.
In Honeycutt, however, the justices determined that defendants cannot be held “jointly and severally liable for property that his co-conspirator derived from the crime but that the defendant himself did not acquire.”
Third Circuit Judge Kent Jordan, who wrote the appellate court’s precedential decision, said that, although Honeycutt only addressed a statute that accounted for a portion of the forfeiture in the Gjeli and Mustafaraj cases, the high court ruling should apply to all the statutes the two were sentenced under.
“A review of the text and structure of those statutes reveals that they are substantially the same as the one under consideration in Honeycutt,” Jordan said. “We thus see no reason why the holding in Honeycutt does not apply with equal force to those statutes.”
Both Philadelphia attorney Eugene Tinari, who represented Mustafaraj, and the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Delaware, which represented Gjeli, did not return a call for comment.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania declined to comment.
According to Jordan, prosecutors lodged numerous criminal charges against Gjeli and Mustafaraj after a grand jury in 2013 determined Gjeli was a “leader and ‘boss’” and Mustafaraj was a “leader and ‘muscle’” in a criminal enterprise. The indictment included 26 counts and charged seven other co-defendants.
Testimony at trial, according to Jordan, included an account of Mustafaraj and Gjeli “wield[ing] an axe” at a man who owed them money, threatening to have others in their organization cut the man’s arm off, and pointing a firearm at the man’s head. Both men were found guilty on numerous offenses, including racketeering, collection of unlawful debt and operating an illegal gambling business, although they were not convicted on the charges related to the incident involving the axe and firearm.
On appeal, the defendants had also challenged the sentencing enhancement the court used, since they had not been found guilty on the charge related to the violent incident.
Jordan, however, affirmed that aspect of the sentence. On the forfeiture issue, Jordan remanded the case back to the trial court for reconsideration.