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Date: 08-21-2021

Case Style:

United States of America v. FRANCISCO OSCAR GRULLON, a/k/a Frank

Case Number: 19-1780

Judge: Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson

Court: United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit

Plaintiff's Attorney: Elysa Q. Wan, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom
Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney, was on brief.

Defendant's Attorney:

Boston, MA - Criminal defense Lawyer Directory


Boston, MA - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with participating in a massive scheme to defraud the federal government by falsifying tax returns charge.

The Scheme

Beginning in October 2011, Grullon, a native of the
Dominican Republic who immigrated to the United States when he was
nine, conspired with a Massachusetts lawyer named David Cohen and
others to defraud the United States. The conspiracy, labeled a
Stolen Identity Refund Fraud scheme by IRS agents, was relatively
simple. In the first step, coconspirators stole personal
identification information, such as social security numbers,
names, and birthdates. With the stolen data in hand, other
1 For details about another coconspirator (who is not
relevant to this appeal), see generally United States v. FleteGarcia, 925 F.3d 17 (1st Cir. 2019).
- 3 -
conspirators executed the second stage, using the information to
file fraudulent tax returns such that the IRS sent refund checks
to addresses in Massachusetts.2
With checks in hand, the third stage began. And this is
where Grullon and Cohen became useful by laundering the checks
into cold hard cash through bank accounts at various banks in
Massachusetts.3 The government put forward circumstantial evidence
that, starting in October 2011, Cohen and Grullon conspired to
deposit some of the checks into Cohen's Interest on Lawyers Trust
Accounts, known as IOLTAs, which are accounts that lawyers arrange
to hold onto their clients' funds. See Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.15(e).
To suspicious tellers, Cohen insisted the money came from his legal
clients, but bank employees observed Cohen writing himself checks
from the IOLTA account into which he had just deposited the alleged
client funds. The checks' amounts approximated what he had just
put into the bank.
2 The scheme primarily targeted people in Puerto Rico because
the IRS does not require the Commonwealth's residents to file
yearly tax returns. Because fewer Puerto Rico citizens file
returns, the conspirators expected the IRS would flag fewer of
their fraudulent returns as suspicious given the lesser chance the
IRS would have multiple returns with the same personal
identification information.
3 The banks included Century Bank, Brookline Bank, Citizens
Bank, Bank of America, and People's United Bank.
- 4 -
Other times, Cohen established accounts in the name of
Grullon's business, American Dominican Professional Association,
Inc. ("AD Professional") (Grullon only once went with Cohen to
open an account and even then he kept his name off of the account).4
AD Professional purported to be a legitimate business, and indeed
it sometimes operated a function hall. When Cohen opened the AD
Professional accounts, he variously claimed the business was a
commercial real estate company or a check-cashing company.
For one AD Professional account, Cohen told bank
employees that Grullon had the necessary check-cashing license
from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to operate a check-cashing
business. If he were telling the truth, the pair could have
deposited the fraudulent third-party tax refund checks with less
scrutiny from the bank because the nature of a check-cashing
business is to take checks from third parties. Grullon also later
told one bank teller that he had a check-cashing license that
allowed him to deposit the third-party tax refund checks (he did
not). When the license never materialized, the bank closed the
account because of the suspicious check-cashing activity.
Cohen alternatively claimed that the third-party tax
refund checks came from AD Professional. In this telling, Cohen
4 The business also went by variations of the name AD
Professional Association, Inc., but we will refer to it as AD
Professional for clarity.
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deposited tax refund checks for members of the association into
the AD Professional accounts to hold onto the money for future
real estate or land purchases the association might want to make.
When a bank asked for a signed contract to verify the arrangement
-- the IRS had issued reclamation notices to the bank for some of
the tax refund checks Cohen had deposited5 -- Cohen could not
produce one. The bank thereafter closed the account based on the
suspicious check-cashing activity.
Sometimes banks hesitated before opening accounts in the
name of AD Professional. Wanting to ensure the AD Professional
accounts were legitimate, employees from a couple of the banks
independently investigated the company's listed address and found
a nearly empty building with some sort of function space on the
second floor, and very little resembling either the check-cashing
or real estate businesses Cohen purported it to be. The banks
thereafter either refused to open AD Professional accounts or
closed ones they had opened before looking into the company.
Although eyewitness testimony and security camera
footage only placed Grullon in one of the target banks in January
2013 at the earliest, bank employees at some of those banks
testified to Grullon thereafter depositing multiple fraudulent tax
5 A reclamation notice from the IRS occurs when the payee of
a tax refund check alleges that she did not receive the benefit of
that check. The IRS then seeks to reclaim the funds from the bank
that processed the check.
- 6 -
return checks into the AD Professional and IOLTA accounts multiple
times a week (Grullon, though not a signatory on the accounts,
could still deposit checks). The jury also heard about bank
tellers confronting Grullon regarding the validity of the thirdparty checks he was depositing, which Grullon sometimes claimed he
was handling for friends. At least one bank official examined the
checks and noticed that many of Grullon's "friends" happened to
live at the same address.
Additionally, Cohen's officemate, a fellow lawyer who
had known Cohen for around 40 years, testified to having met
Grullon about five times when Grullon showed up at the office to
discuss business ventures he and Cohen were arranging. The
officemate recounted several heated conversations between Grullon
and Cohen about whether they were setting up too many accounts and
depositing too many checks too quickly, especially because Grullon
had not yet received the check-cashing license he had promised to
As for direct evidence of Grullon's involvement, the
prosecution enlisted one of his coconspirators, Dubin Eduardo
Gonzalez-Pabon, as their star witness. In early 2013, Cohen
recruited Gonzalez-Pabon, an attorney from Venezuela and a friend
of Cohen's girlfriend (she and Cohen even attended GonzalezPabon's wedding), to participate in the conspiracy. GonzalezPabon lived at and worked from Cohen's house.
- 7 -
According to Gonzalez-Pabon, Grullon instructed the new
coconspirator to become a treasurer and secretary of AD
Professional, purportedly to help the company with investments.
On the day Gonzalez-Pabon signed the paperwork to officially join
the company in those roles, Grullon and Cohen directed him to open
multiple accounts at multiple banks in the name of AD Professional,
and to deposit checks into those accounts. Gonzalez-Pabon
complied. Grullon gave Gonzalez-Pabon the majority of checks he
was to deposit. Grullon also provided Gonzalez-Pabon money to
deliver to the unknown coconspirators who procured the fraudulent
refund checks for the scheme. At some point later in 2013, a bank
official confronted Gonzalez-Pabon about the third-party checks he
was depositing into the AD Professional accounts, telling
Gonzalez-Pabon that the checks were made out to "fictitious
people." Grullon and Cohen thereafter told Gonzalez-Pabon to close
the accounts. A jury could easily have found they did so because
the duo knew the checks were fraudulent and because they worried
the IRS would reclaim the money they had deposited now that the
bank had discovered the scam.
The conspiracy lasted until December 2014, but Grullon
stopped participating in November 2013 when he fled to the
Dominican Republic, allegedly to begin a fruit and vegetable export
business. Between October 2011 and November 2013, the trio
defrauded the U.S. Government of at least $1,604,000.28 across
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five banks in Massachusetts using 246 fraudulent checks, cashing
around $400,000 in October 2013 alone.
The Investigation
Grullon's departure was not necessarily coincidental.
After banks voiced suspicions about Grullon and Cohen depositing
United States Treasury checks in other people's names and after
the IRS issued a number of reclamation notices to those banks, the
IRS's Criminal Investigations Division began investigating the
conspiracy in July 2013. Special agents Ryan J. Talbot and James
Clarke conducted most of the on-the-ground investigation,
gathering evidence from the banks and interviewing witnesses.
Towards the end of 2014, Gonzalez-Pabon was arrested and almost
immediately began to cooperate. He participated in three
interviews, the first of which the special agents recorded. In
the latter two, at which special agent Clarke took notes, GonzalezPabon contradicted earlier statements. He had initially admitted
to knowing the scheme was criminal when he deposited the checks,
but in the subsequent interviews Gonzalez-Pabon claimed he found
out about the illegality only upon his arrest.
On May 5, 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Grullon
and Cohen, charging them with conspiracy to commit "theft,
conversion, or embezzlement of government property" starting in
October 2011 (18 U.S.C. § 371), with seventeen counts of conversion
of government property (18 U.S.C. § 641), and with one count of
- 9 -
conspiracy to commit money laundering starting in October 2011 (18
U.S.C. § 1956(h)).6 Grullon was apprehended in the Dominican
Republic on March 20, 2018, and extradited to the United States in
Events Before Grullon's Trial
In between Grullon's indictment and his arrest, several
events germane to his appeal occurred. First, by the time Grullon
unwillingly returned to the United States, the government had
already successfully tried Cohen and convicted him. For his role
in the crimes, Cohen received fifty-four months imprisonment, with
three years of supervised release, and a restitution order for
Second, special agent Clarke got into his own hot water.
A grand jury indicted him on March 7, 2018, for sexually assaulting
an intern on July 26, 2017.7 A jury eventually convicted Clarke
(he received 7 to 8 years), but at the time of Grullon's trial,
the government (wisely) decided not to call Clarke to testify.
6 Gonzalez-Pabon was also indicted, but he pled guilty to
one count of conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371. He received 12
months and 1-day imprisonment with 2 years of supervised release
and he was ordered to pay $780,682.54 in restitution.
7 Clarke had taken the intern to a bar after work and then
offered her a ride to the bus station. Once in the car, he
handcuffed her, shoved his gun in her mouth, and digitally raped
- 10 -
Grullon's Trial & Sentencing
Prior to trial, Grullon submitted several motions.
First, Grullon filed a motion in limine seeking to introduce
evidence concerning Clarke's criminal behavior pursuant to Federal
Rule of Evidence 404(b)(2), which permits certain evidence of a
person's prior bad actions to be introduced for specific purposes.8
Second, Grullon filed a motion for discovery because he wanted the
government to provide him with Gonzalez-Pabon's unredacted
presentence report (PSR) so that he could uncover additional
evidence to impeach the credibility of the government's star
witness. Such reports are generally unavailable to third parties
and contain information about a defendant's personal life that
helps the judge figure out an appropriate sentence.9 Both the
government and Grullon agree Grullon had already been provided
with Gonzalez-Pabon's redacted PSR.
The trial judge (who was the same judge who had tried
and sentenced Cohen) denied the first motion without prejudice,
meaning Grullon could raise the point again during trial. As for
8 Motions in limine are a tool for trial lawyers to petition
the court to exclude or to include particular pieces of evidence.
Judges request them before the trial begins so that thorny
evidentiary questions do not interrupt or slow down the
proceedings. See United States v. Agosto-Vega, 731 F.3d 62, 65
(1st Cir. 2013).
9 See In re Bos. Herald, Inc., 321 F.3d 174, 188 (1st Cir.
- 11 -
the second, he took the PSR question under advisement, indicating
he would conduct an in camera inspection. But he never issued a
final ruling about it. We will save the details for further along,
but keep the motions in mind because they are central to some of
Grullon's appellate issues.
After a six-day trial concluded on April 29, 2019, a
jury convicted Grullon of conspiracy to commit the various
financial crimes, of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and of
fifteen counts of converting government property.10
The judge sentenced Grullon to 84 months in jail based
on a total offense level (TOL) of 28, plus 3 years of supervised
release, and $1,604,000.28 in restitution.11 Relevant here, the
TOL calculation included a 2-level enhancement for Grullon's
leadership role (U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(c)), and a 16-level enhancement
because the amount of loss was greater than $1.5 million (U.S.S.G.
§ 2B1.1(b)(1)(I)).12 Grullon objected to both enhancements at
trial for reasons we recount later.
10 The government, mid-trial, moved to dismiss two of the
conversion counts from the original indictment.
11 Federal judges use the United States Sentencing
Guidelines, which has a complex system of offense levels, when
calculating the appropriate punishment for defendants. See
generally United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005).
12 Grullon's TOL started from a base level of 6. From there,
the judge tacked on a 2-level enhancement because the offense
involved ten or more victims (U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)), and a 2-
- 12 -
Grullon timely appealed his conviction and here we are.
On appeal, Grullon advocates for three errors. First,
he contends the judge mistakenly excluded the evidence concerning
special agent Clarke's criminal behavior. Second, Grullon asserts
the judge erred by denying him the opportunity to obtain the
unredacted PSR and by failing to enter a final ruling on the
matter. Third, Grullon challenges the appropriateness of the
sentencing enhancements. Because the first set of claims relate
to evidentiary questions, we will review those together before
turning to the sentencing enhancements.
I. Evidentiary Exclusions
A. Standard of Review
Generally, we review preserved evidentiary rulings for
an abuse of discretion. See United States v. Jimenez, 507 F.3d
13, 16 (1st Cir. 2007); United States v. Hansen, 434 F.3d 92, 101
(1st Cir. 2006). However, the government contends Grullon did not
preserve the arguments because he either waived or forfeited them;
the former would preclude our review while the latter would invite
level enhancement thanks to the conviction for conspiracy to commit
money laundering (U.S.S.G. § 2S1.1(b)(2)(B)). Grullon does not
challenge these enhancements.
- 13 -
our more skeptical plain error stare.13 See Hansen, 434 F.3d at
101. "Forfeiture is the failure to make the timely assertion of
a right, [whereas] waiver is the 'intentional relinquishment or
abandonment of a known right.'" United States v. Olano, 507 U.S.
725, 733 (1993) (quoting Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464
(1938)). Therefore, before tackling Grullon's evidentiary claims,
we will decide for each claim what got preserved and what didn't.
B. Exclusion of the special agent's unrelated crime
To determine whether Grullon preserved his right to
appeal the judge's denial of his motion in limine regarding the
admissibility of Clarke's malfeasance, we need to explain what
happened at the final pretrial conference when the judge made an
initial ruling.
Grullon sought to admit the incriminating evidence in
order to bolster his defense that the government's investigation
was untrustworthy because Clarke, a sexual transgressor, was
"instrumental to the investigation," especially given his
"apparent role as case scribe" for the interviews of GonzalezPabon. Specifically, Grullon contended the evidence was
"probative of Clarke's willingness to lie to accomplish his ends,
13 To establish plain error, Grullon must show (1) an error
(2) that is clear, (3) that affected his substantial rights, and
(4) that seriously undermined the fairness, integrity, or public
perception of his trial. See United States v. Takesian, 945 F.3d
553, 563 (1st Cir. 2019).
- 14 -
and to abuse his power to subvert justice" and it was "probative
evidence that [] Clarke acted improperly while leading the
investigation" because a person "does not change overnight from an
honorable IRS agent dispassionately investigating tax crimes to
raping office interns at gunpoint in [his] IRS-issued car." The
government filed its own motion to exclude, arguing Clarke had a
"minimal" role in the investigation because he "was not an affiant
on any warrants or complaints, nor did [he] testify in the grand
jury," and, moreover, Clarke did not draft "reports of [witness]
interviews." Therefore, it argued his testimony was not germane.
The judge preliminarily excluded the evidence of
Clarke's dreadful crime, concluding it would have no relevance to
the trial. However, and importantly, the judge denied Grullon's
motion without prejudice, twice telling Grullon that he could renew
his attempt to introduce the evidence at trial if he ever believed
the trial's development made Clarke's behavior relevant. The judge
articulated that if Grullon "at any point [in the trial wanted] to
bring [Clarke] up, [he could], outside the presence of the jury,"
and that, even though his "preliminary view [was] that I don't see
any basis" for the evidence, he would "hear [Grullon] . . . based
on the evidence at trial, and [he could] press it then, if [he]
wish[ed]." (Emphasis added.) Grullon's attorney affirmed that he
understood the ruling.
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As the trial unfolded, Grullon never availed himself of
the opportunity to bring the Clarke issue back up. After Clarke's
name came up once during Gonzalez-Pabon's cross-examination, the
judge even asked Grullon's counsel if he would be delving further
into the former special agent. Grullon's attorney answered: "No.
No. No. No."
Given what transpired below, the government alleges
Grullon either waived his right to appeal the Clarke ruling or, at
best, forfeited it, garnering plain error review. Grullon contends
he did not need to renew his objections to preserve them because
the judge's ruling was final under Federal Rule of Evidence 103(b),
not preliminary.14 A look at the law suggests the government offers
the better argument.
Where a judge issues an unconditional ruling on a motion
in limine, the defendant need not renew the objection or take
"additional steps to preserve the issue for appeal." United States
v. Almeida, 748 F.3d 41, 50 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Rodríguez v.
Señor Frog's de la Isla, Inc., 642 F.3d 28, 35 (1st Cir. 2011));
see also United States v. Agosto-Vega, 731 F.3d 62, 65 n.6 (1st
Cir. 2013) (citing Fed. R. Evid. 103(b)). On the other hand, when
a judge issues a preliminary, conditional, or "tentative" ruling
14 The rule reads: "Once the court rules definitively on the
record -- either before or at trial -- a party need not renew an
objection or offer of proof to preserve a claim of error for
- 16 -
that "clearly invites the party to offer the evidence at trial,"
then the party has an obligation to raise it again to preserve the
claim. Almeida, 748 F.3d at 50 (quoting Señor Frog's, 642 F.3d at
35); see also Crowe v. Bolduc, 334 F.3d 124, 133 (1st Cir. 2003)).
As the judge announced and as Grullon's attorney
understood, the ruling on the motion in limine was "preliminary,"
not final, and Grullon made no attempt to raise the Clarke evidence
during trial. Accordingly, Federal Rule of Evidence 103(b) gives
him no shield and he has not preserved the claim. See United
States v. Takesian, 945 F.3d 553, 562 (1st Cir. 2019) ("We
emphasize that Rule 103 requires the objecting party (here,
[Grullon]) 'to clarify whether an in limine or other evidentiary
ruling is definitive when there is doubt on that point.'") (quoting
Crowe, 334 F.3d at 133). When Grullon's counsel responded to the
judge's question during trial about whether he would be going
further into Clarke's bad behavior with "No. No. No. No.," he
intentionally relinquished, and thus waived, his right to appeal
the denial of his motion in limine. See Olano, 507 U.S. at 733;
United States v. Mitchell, 85 F.3d 800, 808 (1st Cir. 1996) (noting
a defendant can commit waiver by "unequivocal[ly] assent[ing]" to
a "direct inquiry from the court" about the issue which the
defendant claims as error on appeal (quoting United States v.
Marder, 48 F.3d 564, 571 (1st Cir. 1995))); see also United States
v. Holmquist, 36 F.3d 154, 166 (1st Cir. 1994) ("[W]hen a judge
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issues a provisional in limine pretrial order and clearly invites
the [defendant] to offer evidence at sidebar for the purpose of
reassessing the scope or effect of the order," the argument is
waived unless the defendant "unsuccessfully attempts to offer such
evidence in accordance with the terms specified in the [limine]
order.").15 We decline to consider the merits of Grullon's Clarke
argument. See Hansen, 434 F.3d at 101.
C. The Unredacted PSR
Recall that Grullon tried to access Gonzalez-Pabon's
unredacted PSR and that the judge took the matter under advisement,
but never issued a final ruling, and that neither he nor Grullon
raised the subject again despite Gonzalez-Pabon's extensive
testimony. Before us, Grullon says the district court erred in
not ruling on and not giving him access to the unredacted PSR.
For its part, the government asserts Grullon forfeited his right
to appeal this issue because he never pressed for a ruling on the
PSR request during the trial. Alternatively, the government
contends Grullon waived the claim because he did not engage
expressly with plain error review in his opening brief. See United
States v. Pabon, 819 F.3d 26, 33 (1st Cir. 2016) (appellant who
15 Grullon's counter that his counsel was complying with the
judge's final order on the motion in limine and not intentionally
relinquishing his right to bring in evidence of Clarke's misdeed
is of no avail considering counsel stated on the record he
understood the preliminary ruling.
- 18 -
does "not even attempt[] to meet his four-part burden" waives claim
of plain error). Responding to the government's assertions,
Grullon essentially argues in his reply brief that his opening
brief adequately addresses the plain error factors even if he
didn't structurally describe it as a plain error analysis (he, in
fact, claimed abuse of discretion applied, which we don't buy).
As such, says Grullon, there is no waiver. As to the government's
forfeiture contention, we read Grullon's reply brief as a
concession that he did not preserve the PSR claim below (thus
acknowledging forfeiture) but he argues here that we should apply
plain error review to this portion of his appeal.
Ultimately, we need not decide between waiver and
forfeiture because "[w]here a defendant's claim would fail even if
reviewed for plain error, we have often" simply proceeded to the
merits. United States v. Brake, 904 F.3d 97, 99 (1st Cir. 2018)
(quoting United States v. Acevedo-Sueros, 826 F.3d 21, 24 (1st
Cir. 2016)). And we do so here, jumping to the "simplest way to
decide" Grullon's allegations.16 United States v. McCullock, 991
16 To remind, to establish plain error, Grullon "must show
not just (1) error, but (2) error that is clear, that (3) affected
his substantial rights, and that (4) also seriously undermined the
fairness, integrity, or public perception of his trial." Takesian,
945 F.3d at 562-63 (citing United States v. Rivera-Carrasquillo,
933 F.3d 33, 48 n.14 (1st Cir. 2019)).
- 19 -
F.3d 313, 322 (1st Cir. 2021) (quoting Stor/Gard, Inc. v.
Strathmore Ins. Co., 717 F.3d 242, 248 (1st Cir. 2013)).
With plain error review comes a checkpoint through which
Grullon does not have the credentials to pass. To survive the
"plainness" part of plain error review, defendants must explain
for each of his claims how the trial judge disregarded some
"controlling precedent": (1) telling judges what to do about the
unredacted PSR; and (2) instructing judges about how to rule on
discovery motions regarding PSRs. Id. (quoting United States v.
Morosco, 822 F.3d 1, 21 (1st Cir. 2016)). For neither issue did
Grullon comply with the requirement. We briefly explain why.
Regarding access to the unredacted PSR, Grullon cites
Supreme Court dicta noting that generally, courts are "very
reluctant to give third parties access to the [PSR] prepared for
some other" defendant because they fear a "chilling effect on the
willingness of individuals to contribute information." U.S. Dep't
of Just. v. Julian, 486 U.S. 1, 12 (1988) (disclosing portions of
defendants' PSRs pursuant to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
requests by those defendants). But Julian is not controlling as
it dealt not with third-party requests for PSRs pursuant to a
pretrial discovery motion, but instead with requests by defendants
for their own PSRs pursuant to FOIA. Id. at 12-13. So Julian is
not helpful. Neither is it helpful for Grullon that other circuits
have adopted the dicta as their test for third-party access to
- 20 -
PSRs because those circuits do not control our law.17 We have not
yet had the opportunity to consider the Julian language, so there
can be no plain error.18 See McCullock, 991 F.3d at 32; United
States v. Romero, 906 F.3d 196, 207 (1st Cir. 2018) ("With no
binding precedent on his side, [defendant] cannot succeed on plainerror review unless he shows" that theory "is compelled" by
constitutional law, statute, regulation, or other legal mandate);
17 See United States v. Schlette, 842 F.2d 1574, 1581 (9th
Cir. 1988), amended, 854 F.2d 359 (9th Cir. 1988); United States
v. Corbitt, 879 F.2d 224, 238 (7th Cir. 1989) (quoting Julian, 486
U.S. at 12-13); United States v. Charmer Indus., Inc., 711 F.2d
1164, 1175 (2d Cir. 1983) (requiring a "compelling demonstration
that disclosure of the report is required to meet the ends of
justice"); United States v. Blanco, 884 F.2d 1577, 1578 (3d Cir.
1989) (requiring "specific showing of the need for disclosure in
the interest of justice"); United States v. Pendleton, 832 F.3d
934, 941 (8th Cir. 2016) (PSRs "should not be disclosed to third
persons absent a demonstration that disclosure is required to meet
the ends of justice") (quoting United States v. McKnight, 771 F.2d
388, 390 (8th Cir. 1985)); United States v. Gomez, 323 F.3d 1305,
1308 (11th Cir. 2003) (assuming "the 'compelling need' test
controls the release of [presentence investigation information] to
third parties"); United States v. Figurski, 545 F.2d 389, 391 (4th
Cir. 1976) (because of the importance of the credibility of the
prosecution's codefendant or coconspirator witness, disclosure of
the PSR may be warranted when "the integrity of the judicial
process [so] requires").
18 Although Grullon points out that we have favorably quoted
Julian regarding third-party access to PSRs, the quotation, as he
alludes, was in dicta. See In re Bos. Herald, Inc., 321 F.3d at
188 (noting, in the context of determining whether to require
disclosure of other criminal justice materials, that PSRs are
presumptively confidential documents and that "the courts have
typically required some showing of special need before they will
allow a third party to obtain a copy of a presentence report."
(quoting Julian, 486 U.S. at 12)).
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United States v. Marcano, 525 F.3d 72, 74 (1st Cir. 2008) (per
curiam) ("[P]lain error cannot be found . . . absent clear and
binding precedent.").19
As for the claim that the judge abused his discretion by
not exercising his discretion,20 see Brooking v. Branham, 727 F.
App'x 884, 885-86 (7th Cir. 2018) ("[a] judge's failure to exercise
19 We pause to note that Grullon would not have been able to
show error, let alone any error that would have affected his
substantial rights, because he has demonstrated no compelling need
to get additional impeachment evidence from the unredacted PSR.
See United States v. Serrano-Mercado, 784 F.3d 838, 845 (1st Cir.
2015) (quoting United States v. Padilla, 415 F.3d 211, 218 (1st
Cir. 2005)). Grullon provided no specific reasoning why the
possible additional impeachment evidence would have altered or
assisted his cross examination of Gonzalez-Pabon. See United
States v. Allen, 716 F.3d 98, 105 (4th Cir. 2013) (defendant must
provide specific information about PSR's exculpatory information
to prevent a "fishing expedition every time a codefendant pleads
guilty"). As Grullon admits, he had "other means of challenging
[] Gonzalez-Pabon's credibility." And he could have obtained at
least some of "the information in the [PSR] . . . from other
sources," United States v. Molina, 356 F.3d 269, 275 (2d Cir.
2004), such as through cross examination or Gonzalez-Pabon's
asylum applications, which the government provided, and which
contained "a very long narrative about [Gonzalez-Pabon's] history
in Venezuela." While it is true that Grullon could not know
precisely what information was unredacted, Grullon has not
"show[n] that the . . . available sources of information were not
adequate" to challenge Gonzalez-Pabon's credibility, especially
considering Grullon attacked Gonzalez-Pabon's credibility at
length. United States v. Jewell, 614 F.3d 911, 922 (8th Cir.
2010); Blanco, 884 F.2d at 1577 (denying disclosure of third-party
PSR because appellant's "motion advanced no reason why information
in those reports would add significantly to what [appellant]
already knew.").
20 The government does not address this contention, but
Grullon makes nothing of its failure to do so.
- 22 -
discretion is an abuse of discretion"), Grullon once more commits
a fatal error by not pointing us to any controlling precedent
holding that a judge must consider or must rule on a pretrial
discovery motion. His citation to Seventh Circuit decisions (like
the one just noted) do not discuss defendants, like Grullon, who
received redacted versions of a cooperating coconspirator's PSR.
They cannot therefore help him demonstrate plain error.21 See
McCullock, 991 F.3d at 32; Romero, 906 F.3d at 207; Marcano, 525
F.3d at 74.
II. Sentencing Enhancements
Grullon finally alleges the judge improperly applied two
sentencing enhancements. First, he disputes the 2-level
enhancement for being a leader in the conspiracy pursuant to
U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(c). Second, he asserts that the judge improperly
calculated the amount of loss attributable to Grullon's
participation in the conspiracy, which, in turn, led the judge to
21 Our decision that Grullon cannot demonstrate plain error
should not be misconstrued as this court having a position on the
merits of his claim. That being said, we want to be clear that it
would have been the better practice for the trial court to have
issued a ruling on Grullon's pretrial discovery motion after
explicitly taking it under advisement given Grullon's assertion
that he needed material in the unredacted PSR for impeachment
purposes. But even assuming error, Grullon has not demonstrated
how such error affected his substantial rights (as is necessary to
get relief) for the same reasons as discussed in note 19,
especially considering he abandoned the issue at trial by not
raising it. See Serrano-Mercado, 784 F.3d 838, 845.
- 23 -
enhance the TOL too heavily pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(1)(I).
Neither claim has merit.
A. Standard of Review
Unlike his evidentiary appeals, Grullon preserved his
claims regarding the sentencing enhancements by objecting to them
at the time of sentencing. Where a defendant has preserved an
error for appeal, we review a sentencing court's decision for an
abuse of discretion. See United States v. Rivera-Morales, 961
F.3d 1, 15 (1st Cir. 2020). Within that standard, we deploy a
multifaceted analysis, but here the one important facet is that we
review the court's findings of fact, such as Grullon's role in the
offense and the amount of loss attributable to his actions, for
clear error. See id.; United States v. Innarelli, 524 F.3d 286,
290 (1st Cir. 2008) (reviewing sentencing court's amount of loss
calculation for clear error); United States v. Cadavid, 192 F.3d
230, 237 (1st Cir. 1999) (reviewing sentencing court's role-inthe-offense enhancement determination for clear error). "Given
this algorithm, factbound battles over a defendant's role in an
offense 'will almost always be won or lost in the district court.'"
United States v. Vargas, 560 F.3d 45, 49 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting
United States v. Graciani, 61 F.3d 70, 75 (1st Cir. 1995)). We
"[d]raw[] all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to
the challenged finding" when analyzing challenges to sentencing
- 24 -
enhancements. United States v. Al-Rikabi, 606 F.3d 11, 14 (1st
Cir. 2010).
B. Role-in-the-offense enhancement
The U.S.S.G. provides an enhancement for any defendant
who is "an organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor in any
criminal activity." U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(c). Grullon argues the judge
clearly erred by finding that he was an organizer or leader in the
conspiracy because, in Grullon's words, Cohen was the "ringleader"
who devised the laundering scheme and who recruited and controlled
i. Leadership over Gonzalez-Pabon
To earn the enhancement, the government must show by a
preponderance of the evidence that the defendant did more than
participate in shared criminal activity; he must have led or
facilitated that criminal activity. See Al-Rikabi, 606 F.3d at
14-15; United States v. Cortés-Cabán, 691 F.3d 1, 28 (1st Cir.
2012). One way to demonstrate leadership is by "the degree of
control and authority exercised over" at least one other person.
United States v. Picano, 333 F.3d 21, 23 (1st Cir. 2003) (quoting
U.S.S.G § 3B1.1, cmt. n.4). A defendant can, however, play an
essential role in the overall conduct without having any managerial
22 The enhancement also requires that there were "one to
three other participants." Al-Rikabi, 606 F.3d at 14 (citing
U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(c)). Grullon smartly concedes that there were
enough participants.
- 25 -
or supervisory capacity necessary to trigger the enhancement. See
United States v. Ramos-Paulino, 488 F.3d 459, 464 (1st Cir. 2007);
United States v. Sostre, 967 F.2d 728, 733 (1st Cir. 1992). Yet,
it is not particularly difficult for the government to meet its
burden. The "[e]vidence of the defendant's role in the conspiracy
may be wholly circumstantial, and need only show that he exercised
authority or control over [one other] participant on one occasion."
Cortés-Cabán, 691 F.3d at 28 (first alteration in original)
(quoting United States v. Flores–de–Jesús, 569 F.3d 8, 34 (1st
Cir. 2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Unfortunately for Grullon, his reply brief all-butadmits he deserved the enhancement by citing to portions of the
record where Gonzalez-Pabon testified multiple times to Grullon
giving him "orders" and to Grullon making Gonzalez-Pabon further
the conspiracy by joining his company, AD Professional. See United
States v. Cruz-Ramos, 987 F.3d 27, 44-45 (1st Cir. 2021) (ordering
one other coconspirator enough for enhancement); Cortés-Cabán, 691
F.3d at 28 ("issu[ing] instructions" sufficient for role in offense
enhancement). Although Grullon is on better ground arguing that
he did not control Cohen (as the government's brief argues),
remember that the enhancement applies so long as Grullon, by a
preponderance of the evidence, controlled at least one other person
(Gonzalez-Pabon); whether Grullon controlled Cohen is therefore
inconsequential. See United States v. Prange, 771 F.3d 17, 34
- 26 -
(1st Cir. 2014). The trial record and the PSR, upon which judges
can rest sentencing decisions, had more than sufficient evidence
for the enhancement, and we defer to the judge's view of the "raw
facts" over ours. See Picano, 333 F.3d at 24-25.
ii. Enhancement disparity relative to Cohen
Perhaps because of the weakness of that argument,
Grullon pivots, contending the enhancement was undeserved because
the judge did not apply it to Cohen a few years earlier (recall
that Cohen received fifty-four months imprisonment whereas Grullon
received eighty-four).23 As we have said, we will "examine[]
arguments . . . that a sentence was substantively unreasonable
because of the disparity with the sentence given to a codefendant." United States v. Galindo-Serrano, 925 F.3d 40, 52
(1st Cir. 2019) (alteration and omission in original) (quoting
United States v. Reverol-Rivera, 778 F.3d 363, 366 (1st Cir. 2015))
(modification in original), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 2646 (2020).
Although Congress drafted the criteria primarily with "national
[sentencing] disparities" in mind, we also scrutinize whether "a
sentence was substantively unreasonable because of the disparity
with the sentence given to a co-defendant."24 Galindo-Serrano, 925
23 The government also neglects to engage directly with this
argument, but Grullon once more makes nothing of it in his reply
brief and neither will we.
24 Although tried separately, the grand jury indicted Cohen
and Grullon together as codefendants.
- 27 -
F.3d at 52 (quoting Reverol-Rivera, 778 F.3d at 366). As the
sentencing guidelines point out, the role-in-the-offense
enhancement exists so as to allocate punishment appropriately
based on "relative responsibility." U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1 (comment).
We turn down disparity claims when "material differences
between" the defendant's "'circumstances and those of the more
leniently punished confederates,'" justify the divergence,
including the more severe criminal history of the more severely
punished codefendant. Galindo-Serrano, 925 F.3d at 52 (quoting
United States v. Reyes-Santiago, 804 F.3d 453, 467 (1st Cir.
2015)). To succeed, the "defendant must compare apples to apples,"
which means we pay close attention to "two identically situated
defendants receiv[ing] different sentences from the same judge."
Reyes-Santiago, 804 F.3d at 467 (quoting United States v. Rivera–
Gonzalez, 626 F.3d 639, 648 (1st Cir. 2010)). Such cases, however,
are unusual to say the least. See id.
The judge (who, recall, was the trial and sentencing
judge for Cohen) explained at length why he found Grullon more
culpable than Cohen, including that: (1) Grullon was an
"architect" who "dr[ew] some people into" the scheme; (2) Grullon
had a much lengthier criminal history than Cohen, who had none,
which mattered for the judge's assessment of relative culpability
even if the history did not alone add any offense levels under the
sentencing guidelines; (3) Grullon, unlike Cohen, kept himself "in
- 28 -
the background" to "tak[e] advantage and us[e] the others" as
fronts; and (4) unlike Cohen, Grullon would not be subject to the
restitution order because Grullon would be deported to the
Dominican Republic following his release from prison, and
probation had no jurisdiction over him there.25 Overall, the judge
found Grullon "more culpable than Mr. Cohen" and without the
"lifetime of good works" Cohen had apparently accumulated, which
is why he felt comfortable giving Grullon a tougher sentence.
There was no abuse of discretion given the judge's thoughtful
reasoning about why he punished Grullon more harshly than Cohen.
See Reverol-Rivera, 778 F.3d at 367; Vargas, 560 F.3d at 49
(trusting the factfinder at sentencing).
C. Loss calculation enhancement
In fraud cases, like Grullon's, that result in financial
losses for the victims, the defendant's sentence depends in part
on the amount of loss incurred. See United States v. Flete-Garcia,
925 F.3d 17, 29 (1st Cir. 2019). The sentencing guidelines provide
for a 16-level sentencing enhancement if the calculated loss is
between $1,500,000.01 and $3,500,000.00. See U.S.S.G.
§ 2B1.1(b)(1). If the loss is instead between $550,000.01 and
25 The judge was not punishing Grullon more harshly than
Cohen because of a relative lack of funds. He noted that Grullon
likely would not have to pay restitution as a "practical"
difference between Grullon's and Cohen's circumstances since Cohen
would remain subject to probation's jurisdiction in the United
- 29 -
$1,500,000.00, the enhancement is 14-levels. See id. The judge
calculated the loss attributable to Grullon at over $1,600,000,
thus subjecting him to the 16-level enhancement.
Grullon argues the enhancement should not apply because
the government put forward insufficient evidence to prove he
entered the conspiracy before September 2012. Thus, he says, he
should not be responsible for losses prior to his moment of
initiation. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3 (prohibiting counting conduct
before defendant joined the conspiracy). By that time, Cohen had
deposited about $700,000 in fraudulent checks. If, as Grullon
contends, he is not responsible for that loss, then the judge
should have only applied the 14-level enhancement ($1,600,000 -
$700,000 = $900,000). Once more, we ask whether the judge
committed clear error by finding that Grullon deserved the
enhancement by a preponderance of the evidence, which is no easy
goal for Grullon to accomplish. See United States v. Ramney, 298
F.3d 74, 80 (1st Cir. 2002).
The sentencing judge can, as we briefly mentioned
earlier, base his conclusions on the PSR and on relevant conduct
from the trial record. See Flete-Garcia, 925 F.3d at 28; Vargas,
560 F.3d at 49-50. Relevant conduct "includes acts that were part
of the same course of conduct or common scheme or plan." United
States v. Souza, 749 F.3d 74, 86 (1st Cir. 2014) (internal
quotations and citation omitted), cert. denied, 574 U.S. 966
- 30 -
(2014). "A common scheme or plan involves acts connected by at
least one common factor, such as common victims, common
accomplices, common purpose, or similar modus operandi." Id. at
86-87 (internal quotations and citation omitted). According to
the Guidelines, "[a] defendant in a jointly undertaken criminal
activity is liable for the loss resulting from acts directly
attributable to him and for the loss resulting from the reasonably
foreseeable acts of others taken in furtherance of the jointly
undertaken criminal activity." United States v. Codarcea, 505
F.3d 68, 71 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3(a)(1), (3)).26
The problem for Grullon is the jury's conviction.
Although Grullon correctly notes that the district court cannot
base its calculations on the indictment, see United States v.
Pizarro-Berríos, 448 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2006), here the jury
convicted Grullon of participating in the conspiracy starting in
October 2011. The evidence presented by the government thus
demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that Grullon had joined in
the conspiracy by October 2011. Because "beyond a reasonable
doubt" is a higher burden of proof than "preponderance of the
26 The government counters that Grullon ignored the
appropriate legal standard by not discussing whether he should be
held accountable for the losses resulting from the reasonably
foreseeable acts of others in the joint criminal undertaking. See
Codarcea, 505 F.3d at 71. Of course, if Grullon was not
participating in the conspiracy before September 2012, then none
of that loss would have been reasonably foreseeable to him. See
U.S.S.G. § 1B1.3.
- 31 -
evidence," United States v. Robinson, 241 F.3d 115, 119 (1st Cir.
2001), evidence sufficient for a jury to convict can meet the mark
for a judge to sentence. See Ramney, 298 F.3d at 80. And,
remember, the judge could rely upon evidence put in front of the
jury and in the PSR when calculating that Grullon caused a loss
over $1,600,000 -- evidence such as Cohen opening accounts in the
name of AD Professional (Grullon's business) into which Grullon
deposited fraudulent checks, and the PSR's calculation of the total
loss from the fraudulent checks going back to October 2011. See
Pizarro-Berríos, 448 F.3d at 7 (evidence presented by government
permissible way for court to calculate loss attributable); United
States v. Newton, 327 F.3d 17, 30 (1st Cir. 2003) ("[I]t was well
within the bounds of the court's discretion to credit evidence
produced at trial and set forth in the government's sentencing
memorandum."). We cannot therefore say that the judge committed
clear error when calculating the amount of loss or abused his
discretion by applying the 16-level enhancement.

Outcome: For the reasons set out above, none of Grullon's
arguments convince us that he should have a new trial or a lesser
sentence. Affirmed.

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