Nye Nissen v. United States/Opinion of the Court

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United States Supreme Court

336 U.S. 613

Nye Nissen  v.  United States

 Argued: March 3, 1949. --- Decided: April 18, 1949

Nye & Nissen is a corporation which during the years covered by the indictment was engaged in the business of purchasing and selling eggs, butter, and cheese in San Francisco. Throughout this period Moncharsh was president of the corporation, one of its directors, and the owner of one-third of the stock of the holding company which had sole owners ip of Nye & Nissen. Moncharsh's mother owned a one-third interest in the holding company, while the other third was owned by one Baum who lived in New York. Berman and Goddard were brothers-in-law of Moncharsh-the former being city sales manager of Nye & Nissen in charge of the company's retail salesmen, the latter being shipping and receiving clerk. Menges was another employee.

During the period from 1938 to 1944, Nye & Nissen made large sales of its products to the Army and Navy and, after December, 1943, to operators of various vessels having general agency contracts with the War Shipping Administration.

An indictment in seven counts was returned on June 20, 1945, against Nye & Nissen, Moncharsh, Berman, Goddard and Menges. The first count charged the defendants with having conspired to defraud the United States from 1938 to 1945, in violation of § 37 of the Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 88, 18 U.S.C.A. § 88, [1] now § 371 by designated fraudulent practices to which we will refer. The other six counts charged the defendants with violations of § 35 of the Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 80, 18 U.S.C.A. § 80, [2] now § 1001 by misrepresenting in invoices presented to the War Shipping Administration in April and May, 1944, the weights, grades, and prices of specified sales of eggs and cheese.

Menges was acquitted. Berman and Goddard were found guilty on all counts, sentenced to a year and a day on each count, the terms to run concurrently, and fined $700. They did not appeal. Nye & Nissen was found guilty on all counts and fined $5,000 on each. Moncharsh was convicted on all counts and sentenced to two years' imprisonment on the first and to five years on each of the other six, all seven terms to run concurrently. He was also fined $5,000 on each count. On appeal the judgments of conviction of Nye & Nissen and Moncharsh were affirmed. 168 F.2d 846. The case is here on a petition for certiorari which we granted because of doubts whether the conviction of Moncharsh on the substantive counts could be sustained under the theory of Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640, 66 S.Ct. 1180, 90 L.Ed. 1489, on which the Court of Appeals seemed to rely.

Two preliminary questions are presented. It is argued in the first place that there was a variance prejudicial to Moncharsh between the conspiracy charged and the proof, in that the evidence tended to show the existence of two separate conspiracies of differen characters and involving different persons. The contention is that the conspiracy charged was a continuing one from 1938 to 1945, and involved the circumvention of the Government's inspection system with relation to the sale of eggs. It is said that the proof showed two separate and distinct conspiracies-the first embracing Berman, Goddard, Moncharsh and Menges in an undertaking to defraud the United States by impeding and impairing the Government's inspection system with relation to the sales of eggs to the Army and Navy from 1938 to 1942; the second embracing Berman and Goddard alone in an agreement in 1943 and 1944, to file false vouchers with the War Shipping Administration. We need not take the space to relate why under that theory Moncharsh is said to have been prejudiced, because the argument that there was a variance seems to us to lack merit. The case was submitted to the jury on the basis of a single conspiracy throughout the period alleged in the indictment. That was proper, for as we read the indictment it charged a single conspiracy to defraud the United States in various ways: by grading and selling to agencies of the Government inferior products through frauds practiced upon its inspectors and representatives; by impeding and defeating the functions of government agencies in the inspection, grading, weighing, and purchase of eggs, butter, and cheese; by utilizing various schemes to circumvent and avoid the standards, grades, weights, and specifications to which the orders were subject; and by misrepresenting the grade, weight, and price of eggs, butter, and cheese. The fact that certain types of fraudulent practices occurred during one period and other types at different periods is without significance. The circumvention of the inspection system and the presentation of false invoices were part and parcel of the same conspiracy as charged and proved. There was an abundance of evidence, as the Court of Appeals held, from which the jury could conclude that there was one continuous and persistent conspiracy to defraud. It is conceivable that the jury might conclude that beginning in 1943 or thereabouts Moncharsh severed himself from the conspiracy and that his subordinates carried it forward on their own. But we could not reverse them if that theory taxed their credulity.

It is argued in the second place that the trial court erred in admitting against Moncharsh evidence of crimes similar to those charged in the substantive counts to prove the guilty intent with which the substantive acts were committed. Each of the six substantive counts charged the presentation of a separate false invoice. The evidence showed the presentation of eleven other false invoices. This was part of the evidence received in support of the conspiracy count. The trial court also admitted it at the conclusion of the case 'for the sole purpose of proving guilty intent, motive, or guilty knowledge' of the defendants. Evidence that similar and related offenses were committed in this period tended to show a consistent pattern of conduct highly relevant to the issue of intent. [3]

The principal question in the case pertains to the charge concerning the substantive offenses and the sufficiency of the evidence to support them.

In Pinkerton v. United States, supra, a conspiracy and substantive offenses were charged. We held that a conspirator could be held guilty of the substantive offense even though he did no more than join the conspiracy, rovided that the substantive offense was committed in furtherance of the conspiracy and as a part of it. A verdict on that theory requires submission of those fact issues to the jury. That was not done here. Hence Moncharsh argues that he is entitled to a new trial.

The difficulty with that argument is that the case was submitted to the jury on an equally valid theory. The trial court charged that one 'who aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures the commission of an act is as responsible for that act as if he committed it directly.' That theory is well engrained in the law. See s 332 of the Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 550 (now 18 U.S.C.A. § 2); [4] United States v. Johnson, 319 U.S. 503, 518, 63 S.Ct. 1233, 1240, 87 L.Ed. 1546; United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 281, 64 S.Ct. 134, 136, 88 L.Ed. 48. In order to aid and abet another to commit a crime it is necessary that a defendant 'in some sort associate himself with the venture, that he participate in it as in something that he wishes to bring about, that he seek by his action to make it succeed.' L.Hand, J., in United States v. Peoni, 2 Cir., 100 F.2d 401, 402.

There is no direct evidence tying Moncharsh to the six false invoices involved in the substantive counts. Yet there is circumstantial evidence wholly adequate to support the finding of the jury that Moncharsh aided and abetted in the commission of those offenses. Thus there is evidence that he was the promoter of a long and persistent scheme to defraud, that the making of false invoices was a part of that project, that the makers of the false invoices were Moncharsh's subordinates, that his family was the chief owner of the business, that he was the manager of it, that his chief subordinates were his brothers-in-law, that he had charge of the office where the invoices were made out.

Those activities extended throughout the period when the substantive crimes were committed. They constitute ample evidence in a record reeking with fraud that Moncharsh was associated with the presentation of the six false invoices. The fact that some of that evidence may have served double duty by also supporting the charge of conspiracy is of course immaterial.

We see therefore no reason to exculpate him as an aider and abettor. There was no inadequacy in the charge to the jury on that theory. Nor was the submission in conflict with Pinkerton v. United States, supra. The rule of that case does service where the conspiracy was one to commit offenses of the character described in the substantive counts. Aiding and abetting has a broader application. It makes a defendant a principal when he consciously shares in any criminal act whether or not there is a conspiracy. And if a conspiracy is also charged, it makes no difference so far as aiding and abetting is concerned whether the substantive offense is done pursuant to the conspiracy. Pinkerton v. United States is narrow in its scope. Aiding and abetting rests on a broader base; it states a rule of criminal responsibility for acts which one assists another in performing. The fact that a particular case might conceivably be submitted to the jury on either theory is irrelevant. It is sufficient if the proof adduced and the basis on which it was submitted were sufficient to support the verdict.


Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, dissenting.


^1  'If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such parties do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.'

^2  'Whoever shall make or cause to be made or present or cause to be presented, for payment or approval, to or by any person or officer in the civil, military, or naval service of the United States, or any department thereof, or any corporation in which the United States of America is a stockholder, any claim upon or against the Government of the United States, or any department or officer thereof, or any corporation in which the United States of America is a stockholder, knowing such claim to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent; or whoever shall knowingly and willfully falsify or conceal or cover up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or make or cause to be made any false or fraudulent statements or representations, or make or use or cause to be made or used any false bill, receipt, voucher, roll, account, claim, certificate, affidavit, or deposition, knowing the same to contain any fraudulent or fictitious statement or entry in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or of any corporation in which the United States of America is a stockholder, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.'

^3  See 2 Wigmore, Evidence (3d Ed., 1940) §§ 302-304; 1 Wharton, Criminal Evidence (11th Ed., 1935) §§ 349-352.

^4  'Whoever directly commits any act constituting an offense defined in any law of the United States, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures its commission, is a principal.'

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).