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United States v. Serunjogi

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 24, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
RONALD SERUNJOGI, Defendant, Appellant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAINE. Hon. Nancy Torreson, U.S. District Judge.

Clifford B. Strike, with whom Strike, Goodwin & O'Brien, was on brief, for appellant.

René e M. Bunker, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Thomas E. Delahanty II, United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Torruella, Dyk,[*] and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

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THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

When his friend and countryman needed a bride to secure his stay in the United States, Ronald Serunjogi was the best man for the job. But after seeing to this marriage in haste, Ronald is now repenting at leisure, serving four months in prison, and one year of supervised release, four months of which must be spent in home confinement, after a jury found him guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States government. Specifically, Ronald was convicted of conspiring with Samson Sengoonzi to arrange a sham marriage in order to secure Samson a change in his immigration status to which he would not otherwise be entitled.[1] On appeal, Ronald argues that the evidence admitted at trial was insufficient to support his conviction, and that the district court erred in calculating his sentence. After careful consideration, we affirm both Ronald's conviction and his sentence.

I.

BACKGROUND

Because Ronald is challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, we will recite the facts in the light most compatible with the jury's verdict. See, e.g., United States v. Polanco, 634 F.3d 39, 40 (1st Cir. 2011); United States v. Troy, 618 F.3d 27, 29 (1st Cir. 2010).

A. The Wedding Planner

Every wedding needs a planner--someone with experience who can tend to the details and guide the bride and groom over the hurdles of their most important day. Ronald is a nurse by profession, but for his friend Samson, he was a most capable wedding planner. A native of Uganda, Ronald emigrated to the United States in 1999 and was issued an Exchange Visitor Visa. In 2002, Ronald settled in California, where he married for the first time. The marriage ended in divorce in 2003, although the final decree was not issued until 2006. Ronald then moved to Maine and, as the ink dried on the decree, married for the second time. That marriage produced one child before ending in 2011. In 2007, Ronald had a brief affair with Alice May--a woman who played a bit part

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in his romantic history, but would assume a much larger role in this case. Presently, in what is perhaps a triumph of hope over experience, Ronald is married to his third wife, Cassandra Linton, with whom he has a second child.

Ronald met Samson at a party at a friend's house. Like Ronald, Samson was a native of Uganda; unlike Ronald, Samson's permission to remain in the United States had expired. As an " overstay," Samson had a problem; Ronald had the solution--Alice May.

B. The Bride Wore Camo

In the summer of 2008, May was, by her own account, not in a good place. She was " doing a lot of drugs, alcohol, and, at that time . . . pretty much didn't care" about her life. Although she testified that her memory of that time was not good, she recalled having several conversations with Ronald during which he would " ask if [she] knew anybody that would marry somebody to get a green card or if [she] would." May initially declined, but Ronald persisted, raising the topic " [p]retty much every time [they] talked." According to May, Ronald told her, " Whoever would marry somebody for a green card would get money."

The would-be bride finally succumbed to Ronald's importuning. On August 27, 2008, May signed a marriage certificate at Lewiston City Hall. She testified that she had no recollection of who was with her at the time, but Samson's signature appears on the certificate beside that of his bride.[2] Five days later, May received $400 that Samson had wired to her through Western Union. On October 22, 2008, at Samson's behest, Ronald picked May up at her home and drove her to the wedding. May testified that she had been drinking and was dressed " like [she] just was cleaning" ; in fact, she was wearing a camouflage tank top. Ronald drove her to a private home where a notary public performed the rather spartan nuptials. The groom wore a suit, but did not provide a ring. Instead, the couple borrowed a ring from the officiant for Samson to place on the bride's finger (" something borrowed" ) and the bride mimed placing a ring on the groom's finger.

Following the brief ceremony, Ronald drove the bride back to his house; the groom followed with a friend in a separate car. While at Ronald's house, May observed Samson as he handed Ronald " a lot of money." Ronald then gave May $800 or $900 before pocketing " a good amount" for himself. A short time later, Ronald and Samson dropped May off at her home. May testified that she did not intend to actually be married to Samson, nor did she ever live with him.

C. The Newlywed Game

When May became pregnant in September 2009, the father was not her new husband, but rather, the same man who fathered her younger child. During her pregnancy, both Samson and Ronald asked her to sign papers for Samson's green card; initially, she refused. Finally, on February 24, 2010, after Ronald called her and explained the relevant paperwork, May signed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. May gave birth in, appropriately enough, May. Six weeks later, Samson called her and asked her to attend an appointment in South Portland the following day, in order to secure his green card. Samson and Ronald picked May up the

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next morning, along with her two children. During the ride, Ronald, a veteran of the process, directed the couple in a rehearsal of what they would likely be asked, and what they should say. In particular, they agreed that if asked what TV show they liked, they would answer " NCIS." Ronald also pointed out that the presence of May's infant child of another father " would look bad," and so Ronald remained in the car with the infant while the couple and May's older child attended the interview in the immigration office.

Unsurprisingly, the interview did not go well. Immigration Service Officer Kurt Pelletier questioned the couple separately. Both May and Samson gave their address as 20 Garfield Street, Apartment 25--Ronald's address--although both claimed to live there with May's one child. No mention was made of either the new baby or Ronald living there. Samson provided a lease to Pelletier for the Garfield Street apartment, with " Alice Sengoonzi and Samson Sengoonzi" listed on it. Pelletier asked May and Samson a series of questions, individually, about their wedding and what they watched on Saturday night. May forgot her lines and, instead of NCIS, talked about watching a movie. Samson, on the other hand, missed his cue; when asked about Saturday night, he said " my favorite show is NCIS" --a statement that Pelletier felt was not an answer to the question he ...


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