ILNews

Conspiracy, false statements convictions stand

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the convictions of participating in a price-fixing conspiracy and making false statements to federal law enforcement of an Indianapolis man involved in a concrete price-fixing scheme.

In United States of America v. Christopher A. Beaver, No. 07-1381, Beaver appealed his convictions, arguing the government failed to prove at trial a price-fixing conspiracy existed, that he joined the conspiracy, or that he made false statements.

Beaver, as operations manager of Beaver Materials Corp., was one of several Indianapolis-area ready-made concrete producers who collaborated in the beginning of the decade to fix the prices of concrete. Representatives from the five concrete companies met several times over the course of a few years in a horse barn in Fishers to discuss the falling market value of concrete. No one ever voted on the prices to charge customers, objected to the price-fixing, nor did anyone refuse to impose the limit. In fact, some even stated they would confront a company involved in the scheme if they did not follow the prices.

Beaver began attending the meetings in the place of another Beaver Materials employee and never objected to the scheme.

The FBI received a tip about the scheme and executed search warrants on the five companies in 2004. All the companies and those involved with the scheme except for Beaver and Beaver Materials admitted their roles in the conspiracy and entered into plea agreements. Four representatives from those companies agreed to help the government investigate and said they would answer truthfully at trial if called.

Beaver told the FBI agent that he never attended any meetings in the horse barn, did not know of another employee who attended the meetings, never saw the other companies except at an annual meeting, and denied any price-fixing. Beaver chose to go to trial and was indicted by a federal grand jury of participating in a price-fixing conspiracy and making false statements to a federal law enforcement agent. At trial, Beaver filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, challenging the evidence supporting his price-fixing conspiracy conviction; the District Court denied the motion.

Beaver appealed, arguing that the District Court erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because the government failed to prove a conspiracy existed or that he participated. He also challenged his false-statements conviction by asserting the government failed to prove the lies he told the FBI agent were material as "a matter of law."

To be convicted of conspiracy under the Sherman Antitrust Act, the government only had to establish the concrete producers had a "tacit understanding based upon a long course of conduct" to limit their discounts and fix prices, wrote Judge Michael Kanne. The concrete makers held meetings to discuss fixing prices and discounts and no one disagreed with the proposals. The concrete producers also would enforce the agreement against those they believed were deviating from it. At trial, several concrete-makers involved in the conspiracy testified Beaver attended the meetings, participated in discussions to limit prices, and agreed to confront other members if they failed to conform. Even his own father, who was president of the company, testified he knew Beaver attended the meetings.

Beaver mischaracterized the issue of his false statements as "a matter of law," wrote Judge Kanne, and the materiality of false statements is a factual determination made by a jury. The federal appellate court rejected Beaver's assertion his false statements couldn't influence the FBI's investigation because his attorney sent a letter to the Department of Justice several days later to inform them that one of the employees lied during the investigation. However, the letter doesn't give the name of the employee, so it is not know whom the letter is about. Also, Beaver is incorrect in thinking he can avoid a conviction by correcting a false statement days after making it. His false statements could have hindered the FBI's investigation, so the appellate court sees no fault with the jury convicting Beaver of providing false statements.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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