Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Randolph v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

February 27, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,[1] Respondent. Civil Action No. 2:16-cv-12



         On August 25, 2015, this Court sentenced Aquilla Terrell Randolph (“Randolph”) to sixty-eight months' imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to the crimes of conspiracy and aggravated identify theft. Randolph, who is currently incarcerated at the Federal Prison Camp in Atlanta, Georgia, filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct his Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. (Doc. 117.)[2] Randolph contends that various errors by his trial counsel plagued his guilty plea and sentence. As laid out below, Randolph's far-reaching claims lack merit. Randolph's conviction and sentence resulted from his own admitted criminal conduct, not any errors by his counsel. Thus, for the reasons which follow, I RECOMMEND the Court DENY Randolph's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct his Sentence. Further, I RECOMMEND that the Court DENY Randolph a Certificate of Appealability and in forma pauperis status on appeal. The Court should DIRECT the Clerk of Court to CLOSE this case and enter the appropriate judgment of dismissal.[3]


         On November 6, 2014, the grand jury for this District returned a thirty-count Indictment against Randolph. (Doc. 1.) The Indictment arose out of a scheme to create and submit false tax returns in order to obtain fraudulent refunds. (Id.) The grand jury charged Randolph with wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Counts One through Ten); False Claims in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287 (Counts Eleven through Twenty); and Aggravated Identify Theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1) (Counts Twenty-One through Thirty). (Id.) The Government asserted in its Penalty Certification that Randolph faced not more than twenty years' imprisonment as to each of Counts One through Ten; not more than five years' imprisonment as to each of Counts Eleven through Twenty; and two years' consecutive imprisonment as to each of Counts Twenty-One through Thirty. (Doc. 2.)

         On March 4, 2015, the grand jury returned a Superseding Indictment against Randolph and codefendant Edward C. Jennings. (Doc. 43.) The Superseding Indictment charged Randolph and Jennings with a conspiracy to commit wire fraud, theft of public funds, and aggravated identify theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, (Count One). (Id.) The grand jury also alleged that Randolph committed the crimes of wire fraud (Counts Two through Eleven); aggravated identify theft (Counts Twelve through Twenty-One and Counts Thirty-Two through Forty-One); and theft of public money (Counts Twenty-Two through Thirty-One). (Id.) The Penalty Certification as to the Superseding Indictment stated that Randolph faced not more than five years' imprisonment as to the conspiracy charge; not more than twenty years' imprisonment as to each of the wire fraud charges; not more than ten years' imprisonment as to each of the theft of public money charges; and two years' consecutive imprisonment as to each of the aggravated identify theft charges. (Doc. 44.)

         The Court placed Randolph on pretrial release at the beginning of the case, and he remained on pretrial release following the Superseding Indictment. (Doc. 13.) The Court ordered that while Randolph was on pretrial release he “must not violate federal, state, or local law” and that he “shall not maintain any position of trust or position with access to personal identifiers” and “may not prepare any tax returns or act as a tax advisor.” (Id. at pp. 1-2.) The Government filed a Motion for Revocation of Randolph's Bond alleging that Randolph violated these conditions. (Doc. 67.) On April 7, 2015, the Court held a hearing on that Motion and found that Randolph had indeed violated the terms of his pretrial release. (Doc. 70.) In its April 9, 2015 Order granting the Government's Motion for Revocation, the Court stated:

At the hearing on the instant Motion, the Government presented several witnesses who provided clear and convincing evidence that Defendant had violated the terms of his release. (See generally Doc. 70.) These witnesses detailed that Defendant had continued to operate a tax preparation business after his release on bond. Several witnesses testified that they had given Defendant their financial records with personal-identifying information in the calendar year 2015 to prepare tax returns for income they had earned in 2014. These witnesses testified that they had paid Defendant for tax preparation services and that Defendant had provided such services and given the individuals tax preparation advice. At least one witness testified that Defendant had included false information on the witness's tax return, including information regarding itemized deductions that had no factual basis.

(Doc. 73, p. 2.) The Court held that Randolph “not only failed to abide by the Order Setting the Conditions of Release, he willfully and repeatedly violated that Order. Defendant's blatant disregard for the conditions of his release cannot be excused or explained away.” (Id. at p. 3.)

         Subsequently, Randolph and his appointed attorney, Mr. Joseph L. Phelps, III, were able to negotiate a plea agreement with the Government whereby Randolph agreed to plead guilty to Counts One and Thirty-Two of the Indictment. (Doc. 88.) He also agreed to waive his rights to appeal and collaterally attack his sentence with limited exceptions. (Id. at p. 7.) In exchange, the Government agreed to dismiss the remaining counts of the Indictment. (Id.) The plea agreement laid out Randolph's offense conduct and the factual basis for his guilty plea. (Id. at pp. 1-4.) Randolph and the Government agreed that the amount of loss for purposes of Randolph's Guidelines calculation was greater than $200, 000 but less than $400, 000. (Id. at p. 6.) Through the plea agreement, Randolph agreed that he “has had the benefit of legal counsel in negotiating this agreement. Defendant believes that his attorney has represented him faithfully, skillfully, and diligently, and he is completely satisfied with the legal advice given and the work performed by his attorney.” (Id. at p. 9.)

         On April 28, 2015, Randolph appeared before the Honorable Lisa Godbey Wood for a change of plea, or Rule 11, proceeding. (Doc. 114.) At the hearing, Judge Wood engaged in an extensive plea colloquy with Randolph. She explained to Randolph that the decision to plead guilty was an important one, that the decision was entirely his decision, and that she wanted to be certain that Randolph understood all of the important considerations that go into the decision. (Id. at pp. 2-3.) Judge Wood inquired whether anyone was making, forcing, or leaning on Randolph to plead guilty, and he said no one had done so and that pleading guilty was what he wanted to do. (Id. at p. 3.)

         Judge Wood had Randolph placed under oath before asking him a series of questions. (Id.) He was able to recount his personal information, including his age, the ages of his children, and his residence. (Id. at p. 4.) Randolph testified that he obtained his high school diploma. (Id. at pp. 4-5.) Randolph recounted his employment history including working as a general manager, supervisor, and corporate trainer for a restaurant chain, opening his own fish market, and operating a tax preparation business. (Id. at p. 5.) Randolph stated that his only physical or mental injury or disability was a back condition and that the medication he took for that condition did not interfere with his ability to communicate and strategize with his attorney or participate in the hearing. (Id. at pp. 5-6.)

         Judge Wood explained to Randolph that he was presumed innocent and the Indictment was not evidence of his guilt. (Id. at pp. 6-7.) She also explained that he did not have to plead guilty and that he had the right to maintain a plea of not guilty. (Id. at p. 7.) Judge Wood further advised Randolph that if he chose to persist in his not guilty plea, he would have the right to a public and speedy trial by jury, a presumption of innocence during that trial, and the assistance of counsel through every phase of the case. (Id. at pp. 7-8.) Judge Wood told Randolph that if he went to trial he could see, hear, confront, and cross-examine the Government's witnesses and evidence, call witnesses on his behalf, and testify himself or remain silent. (Id.) Judge Wood cautioned Randolph he would be waiving these rights if he pleaded guilty. (Id. at pp. 8-9.) She explained that, if she accepted his guilty plea, there would be no right to trial of any kind, and that all that would remain of his case would be the sentencing phase. (Id.) Randolph stated that he understood and that he had no questions regarding the waiver of his rights. (Id. at p. 9.) He volunteered, “my attorney went over that with me.” (Id.)

         Randolph also stated he and Mr. Phelps reviewed the Indictment together; that he had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Phelps about the facts and law of his case; and that he and Mr. Phelps had discussed the proposed plea agreement. (Id.) Randolph testified that he was satisfied with Mr. Phelps' representation and that he had no complaints about Mr. Phelps whatsoever. (Id. at pp. 9-10.)

         Judge Wood reviewed Counts One and Thirty-Two of the Indictment with Randolph and discussed the essential elements of the crimes for which he was charged and what the Government would have to prove if he went to trial. (Id. at pp. 10-13.) Randolph responded that he understood what he was charged with, what the elements of the offenses were, and what the Government would have to prove if he went to trial. (Id.) He understood that by pleading guilty he would admit that the elements are satisfied. (Id. at p. 13.) Judge Wood advised Randolph of the penalties she could impose on the Counts to which he was pleading guilty. (Id. at pp. 13-14.) She specifically explained that Count Thirty-Two carries a mandatory minimum of two years' imprisonment consecutive to any sentence on Count One. Randolph responded that he understood. (Id. at p. 14.) Moreover, Judge Wood explained to Randolph that, in imposing a sentence upon him, she would have to take into consideration the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553, and she outlined the factors she would consider at sentencing. (Id. at p. 15.) Judge Wood asked Randolph if he had any questions about sentencing, and he responded that he did not. (Id.) Randolph testified that no one had promised him an exact sentence. (Id. at p. 16.) Judge Wood explained that all that anyone could give him is a “best guess” or “estimate” of what his Guidelines' range would be, and that such an estimate would in no way bind the Court. (Id.)

         Judge Wood affirmed with Randolph that he had given Mr. Phelps permission to negotiate a plea agreement with the Government. (Id.) She then asked the Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”) to summarize the provisions of the plea agreement. AUSA Shane Mayes stated:

In summary, the plea agreement provides that upon Mr. Randolph pleading guilty to Counts 1 and 32 of the indictment, the Government will move to dismiss the remaining counts of the indictment.
In doing so, Mr. Randolph admits the accuracy of the factual basis as stated on Page 2 through 4 -- Pages 2 through 4 of the plea agreement. The Government and Mr. Randolph agree to recommend to the U.S. Probation Office and The Court at sentencing that for purposes of Section 2B1.1 of the sentencing guidelines the amount of loss is greater than 200, 000.00 but less than 400, 000.00.
Mr. Randolph agrees to pay restitution for the full loss caused by his total criminal conduct which is not limited to the specific counts to which he is pleading guilty.
At sentencing, as stated earlier, the Government will move to dismiss any other counts of the indictment. Defendant waives all rights to request information pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act or the Privacy Act.
Defendant waives the protection of Rule 11(f) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure or Rule 14 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
If Mr. Randolph fails to plead guilty or later withdraws his guilty plea, all statements made by him in connection with the plea and any leads derived therefrom shall be admissible for any and all purposes.
Your Honor, the plea agreement contains the Government's standard appellate waivers and those appear on Page 7 . . . .

(Id. at pp. 17-18.) AUSA Mayes then confirmed with Randolph that his signature was on the plea agreement presented by the Government. (Id. at p. 18.) Judge Wood asked Randolph if AUSA Mayes's summarization of the plea agreement was consistent with the plea agreement he signed, and Randolph stated it was. (Id. at p. 19.) Randolph also stated he read the plea agreement, and Mr. Phelps answered any questions Randolph had before Randolph signed the agreement. (Id.) Randolph reaffirmed that no one had made him any promises regarding the outcome of his case other than the provisions contained in the plea agreement. (Id.)

         Judge Wood then specifically addressed the direct appeal waiver with Randolph, stating the following:

I want to follow up on something that Mr. Mayes mentioned and that is as a part of this plea agreement that you're urging, it does contain a waiver of certain appellate rights.
It states “Defendant entirely waives his right to a direct appeal of his conviction and sentence on any ground.” There are, however, three exceptions to that waiver of your appellate rights. That is, you are allowed to directly appeal only if one of these three things were to occur.
Number 1, if I were to sentence you above the statutory maximum, then you would be able to appeal that directly. Number 2, if I were to sentence you above the advisory guideline range as found by me, then you could appeal that directly, or Number 3, if the Government were to file a direct appeal, then you, too, could file one.
But other than those three occurrences, by virtue of this plea agreement, you waive all other direct appellate rights; do you understand?

(Id. at pp. 19-20.) Randolph stated he understood the appeal waiver provision. (Id. at p. 20.)

         Judge Wood also explained that the proposed plea agreement contained a waiver of certain of Randolph's collateral attack rights. She explained:

The agreement also contains a waiver of your collateral attack rights. It states “Defendant entirely waives his right to collaterally attack his conviction and sentence on any ground and by method including but not limited to a 28 USC Section 2255 motion, ” and the only exception to that waiver is that you do retain the right to collaterally attack based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Do you understand?

(Id.) Randolph replied that he understood the collateral attack waiver provision and that he did not have any questions about the waivers. (Id.)

         Judge Wood asked Mr. Phelps and AUSA Mayes whether they were aware of any impropriety on the part of the Government in handling Randolph's case, and they both responded in the negative. (Id.) Judge Wood then asked Randolph whether he wished to still plead guilty to Counts One and Thirty-Two of the Indictment because he was in fact guilty of those Counts, and Randolph answered in the affirmative. (Id. at p. 21.) Judge Wood also asked Randolph whether he understood the rights and privileges he was waiving if she accepted his plea, and he said he did. (Id.)

         Judge Wood observed that, “[i]t's obvious that [Randolph is] in full possession of all his faculties. He's participated knowingly and intelligently today.” (Id.) She further stated, “[h]e has had the services of a very good defense attorney who has gone over all the requisite documentation with him. They have discussed the facts and the law. He's pleased with his defense attorney thus far.” (Id.) Judge Wood determined that Randolph offered to plead guilty “knowingly and voluntarily.” (Id. at p. 22.) Randolph responded in agreement with Judge Wood's conclusion. (Id.)

         Jason Edward Dulin, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service's (“IRS”) Criminal Division, provided the Government's factual basis for the plea. (Id. at pp. 22-24.) Dulin testified that the IRS received information that Randolph was preparing fraudulent tax returns using stolen identities. (Id. at p. 23.) The resulting investigation revealed that for approximately two years Randolph and others were carrying out an “illegal tax fraud scheme” in Wayne County, Georgia. (Id.) Agent Dulin testified that Randolph unlawfully obtained other individuals' identifications, used those identifications to submit fraudulent tax returns, and then cashed the refund checks that resulted from the fraudulent returns. (Id.) Dulin detailed the criminal conduct forming the basis of Count Thirty-Two of the Superseding Indictment, a fraudulent tax return in the name of Zach Spaulding. (Id. at pp. 23-24.) In 2011, Mr. Spaulding's stolen identifying information was used to submit a fraudulent tax return from an IP address registered to Mr. Randolph. (Id.) Mr. Randolph and another individual cashed the tax refund check at a store in Jesup, Georgia, by falsely representing that ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.