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United States v. Christensen

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 4, 2016

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Gary Steven Christensen, Defendant.

          ORDER

          David G. Campbell United States District Judge

         Following a multi-day jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of seven counts of willfully evading taxes for the years 2004 through 2010, and two counts of willful failure to file tax returns for the years 2009 and 2010. Doc. 101. Defendant was acquitted on five counts of willfully filing false tax returns. Id. Defendant now moves for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c), and the issues are fully briefed. Docs. 110, 118, 124. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant’s motion.[1]

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence.

         Defendant argues that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that he willfully violated the tax laws. In determining the sufficiency of the evidence, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government and deny the motion if any rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. United States v. Atalig, 502 F.3d 1063, 1066 (9th Cir. 2007). The Court must also consider all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the evidence. United States v. Shea, 493 F.3d 1110, 1114 (9th Cir. 2007).

         In support of his motion, Defendant relies on a polygraph examination he took before trial. Doc. 110 at 2.[2] But Defendant did not seek to admit the examination in evidence during trial, and the Court therefore cannot rely on it in assessing whether the government presented sufficient evidence to sustain the verdict. In addition, polygraph results are clearly inadmissible in a criminal case. See United States v. Alvirez, __ F.3d __, 2016 WL 4073312, at *7 (9th Cir. Aug. 1, 2016) (“In this circuit, it is well-established that a polygraph examination may not be admitted to prove the veracity of statements made during the examination.”) (citing United States v. Bowen, 857 F.2d 1337, 1341 (9th Cir. 1988)). Defendant appears to concede the inadmissibility of this evidence in his reply. See Doc. 124 at 4.

         Defendant argues that the Court should consider his proffer to the government and his insistence on going to trial rather than accepting a misdemeanor plea offer. The Court ruled before trial, however, that Defendant’s plea negotiations, and his reasons for rejecting the government’s offer, were not admissible. Doc. 75. In light of this ruling, which the Court continues to view as correct, Defendant cannot rely on his plea negotiations as a basis for his Rule 29 motion.

         Defendant also argues that he (a) testified at length about the basis for his belief that citizens who earn income in the United States are not subject to income taxes, presenting detailed exhibits and video clips in support of his belief; (b) presented expert opinion that Defendant is susceptible to conspiracy theories and was forthcoming in his interview with the expert; and (c) presented the testimony of his former accountant that Defendant is very familiar with the tax laws and did not try to evade taxes. Although it is true that all of this evidence was presented at trial, the question presented by this motion is not whether the jury correctly weighed the evidence. The question is whether the government presented enough evidence for a rational jury to find that Defendant willfully violated the tax laws. Atalig, 502 F.3d at 1066. The Court concludes that the government presented ample evidence to support such a finding. That evidence includes the following:

• Defendant filed tax returns for some 20 years before the events at issue in this case; he stopped filing returns and paying taxes about the time he started earning substantial income.
• Defendant continued to prepare income tax returns for his mother throughout the period when he was filing no returns for himself.
• Defendant, a medical doctor and anesthesiologist, earned millions of dollars from Forest Country Anesthesia (“FCA”) during the years in question, and failed to report any of it on individual income tax returns.
• Defendant created an entity called “GSC 00 Club” and arranged for his earnings from FCA to be paid to the Club rather than to him or his professional corporation. Defendant claimed that the Club was potentially going to be a health club, but admitted that it engaged in no health club activities.
• Defendant controlled all of the funds that flowed into and out of the Club, and used them for his personal benefit. He paid for his house, vehicles, groceries, cleaning services, and similar expenses with funds from the Club. The jury could have concluded that Defendant would not have funneled his income through the Club if he truly felt he was not subject to federal income taxes.
• Defendant never filed a tax return on behalf of the Club, nor did the Club pay employment, Medicare, or social security taxes for Defendant.
• Defendant regularly withdrew large sums of cash from the money he received from FCA. Defendant testified that he used the cash for gambling and dating, but the jury could have found that he regularly withdrew the cash to ...

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