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Watson v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

January 10, 2019


         HABEAS CORPUS 28 U.S.C. § 2255



         Federal inmate George Alexander Watson Taylor has filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Doc. 15.] For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that the motion to vacate be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 15, 2016, Movant was charged by criminal information with wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343. [Doc. 1.] Movant consented to proceeding by information rather than indictment. [Doc. 2.] On August 8, 2016, Movant pled guilty to wire fraud. At the change of plea hearing, the Government summarized the evidence against Movant, explaining that Movant “was employed on a contract basis as a financial specialist at Allstate Financial Services, LLC, from February 2008 until in or about February of 2012” and conducted business as a contractor under the name Watson Advisory Group. [Doc. 18 at 17.] Movant “serviced Allstate Financial Services' investment clients by selling and supporting investment vehicles such as IRAs and annuities, ” but beginning on or about December 23, 2009, Movant “began falsely and fraudulently representing to Allstate Financial Services investment clients that he was investing client funds into agreed-upon investment vehicles when, in fact, he was . . . using the money for his own purposes.” [Id. at 17-18.]

         Movant left Allstate Financial Services in or about February 2012, and took certain Allstate Financial Services clients with him. [Doc. 18 at 18.] Clients Movant serviced “provided him funds via checks and wire transfers with which to conduct investments on their behalf, ” but “rather than invest those funds into the agreed-upon investment vehicle, [Movant] kept the funds for himself while falsely and fraudulently representing to investment clients that their funds were invested in those agreed-upon investment vehicles . . . .” [Id. at 18.]

         Movant testified at the change of plea hearing that he understood the terms of the written plea agreement, further stating that he entered into the plea freely and voluntarily. [Doc. 18 at 10.] Movant stated that he had adequate time to discuss the case and plea with his attorney and that he was satisfied with his legal representation. [Id. at 13.] The limited appeal waiver contained in the plea agreement was read aloud, and included the following language:

[T]he defendant voluntarily and expressly waives the right to appeal his conviction and sentence and the right to collaterally attack his conviction and sentence in any post-conviction proceeding, including but not limited to motions filed pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2255, on any ground . . . . Claims that defendant's counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance are excepted from this waiver.

[Id. at 15-16.] Movant stated that he understood the limited waiver of appeal. [Id. at 16.] When the Court asked Movant if he needed further clarification of any of the issues discussed, Movant responded that he did not. [Id. at 21.]

         On November 9, 2016, the Court sentenced Movant to thirty-seven months' imprisonment with three years' supervised release. [Doc. 11.] He was further ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1, 007, 910.51. [Id. at 5.] At the sentencing hearing, the Court noted a sentencing guidelines range of 41 to 51 months. [Doc. 13 at 4.] The government recommended a one-level downward variance for Movant's expeditious entry of a guilty plea, which reduced the guidelines range to 37 to 46 months. One victim, Vickie Helfenstine, testified that Movant took over a million dollars of her money. [Id. at 6-12.]

         Movant was given an opportunity to address the Court and did not deny that he had misused over $1 million of Ms. Helfenstine's money. Movant also testified, seemingly addressing the amount of money that he misappropriated: “The first time I met with Agent Keys, the FBI, he was showing me things. I couldn't even grasp it. I still most days can't even understand how I got to the amounts that those would be. But people have shown me, and I believe what I see.”[1] [Doc. 13 at 28.] The Court asked Movant for clarification: “Is it your position that you spent over a million dollars in drugs?” [Id. at 29.] Movant responded that he spent approximately 80 percent of the victim's money on drugs, sometimes $15, 000 per week. [Id. at 29-31.] His lawyer testified that Movant developed a $5, 000-$10, 000 per week drug habit that lasted for three years, which “adds up to fit with the amount of money that's gone.” [Id. at 34.] No objection was made to the proposed restitution amount. [Id. at 36.]

         Movant did not appeal his conviction and sentence, but on November 13, 2017, he filed this motion to vacate asserting the following claims: (1) his attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to challenge or advise a challenge could be made to the financial loss amount enhancement; (2) his counsel was ineffective at sentencing by failing to object to the false and misleading testimony of Ms. Helfenstine; (3) his counsel was ineffective at sentencing by failing to disclose Movant's extensive treatment for substance abuse; and (4) his counsel was ineffective at sentencing by failing to respond “honestly, reasonably, and adequately” when asked whether Movant's employer was aware of his legal problems. [Doc. 15.] The government filed a response to the motion on January 8, 2018, and on August 13, 2018. [Docs. 19, 25.] Movant filed a reply brief on September 21, 2018. [Doc. 28.]


         A. The Standard for ...

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