In a case in which the defendant was convicted of conspiracy to use interstate telephone calls in the commission of a murder-for-hire in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958, the panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the defendant’s promise to forgive an uncollectible and\ legally unenforceable debt satisfies the pecuniary value requirement of § 1958.
The panel explained that the pecuniary value requirement does not require the murder-for-hire agreement to comport with contract rules; the defendant’s promise to relieve the hit man of a debt for an illegal marijuana venture gave the hit man an economic benefit, satisfying the pecuniary value requirement for murder-for-hire.
Despite Phillips’ contention, the pecuniary value requirement does not require the murder-for-hire agreement to comport with contract rules, as Congress did not aim § 1958 only at murderous businessmen. After all, debt enforcement is the sine qua non of the criminal underworld. While there may be no honor among thieves, there are certainly obligations—as Don Corleone, on the day of his daughter’s wedding, made clear to Amerigo Bonasera. It is enough that Suiaunoa received money from Phillips and felt obligated to pay him back. Phillips’ promise to relieve Suiaunoa of this debt, in return for Fruchter’s murder, gave Suiaunoa an economic benefit, satisfying the pecuniary value requirement of murder-for-hire.
In a concurrently filed memorandum, the panel concluded that the district court erred in excluding all evidence relating to the defendant’s kidney disease, but that the error was harmless.
Full case here: UNITED STATES V. PHILLIPS, http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2019/07/11/18-50138.pdf
Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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