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Butler v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

October 15, 2019

Caleb Charles Butler, Petitioner
The People of the State of Colorado. Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 14CA986

          Attorneys for Petitioner Walta LLC Mark G. Walta Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Rospondent Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General John T. Lee, Senior Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado


          HART JUSTICE.

         ¶1 In early 2013, an undercover officer sold Clayton Schaner a series of ostensibly stolen goods as part of an investigation into whether Schaner was using his computer repair store, Just Computers, as a front to buy and resell stolen items on e-commerce websites. At the time, Caleb Charles Butler was the store's assistant manager. Investigators discovered that Schaner made near-daily transfers of money to Butler from his e-commerce sites, and Butler then withdrew cash and gave it to Schaner. Schaner and Butler were both arrested. Schaner was charged with a number of offenses, among them money laundering. Butler was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, two counts of money laundering for aiding and abetting Schaner in two specific laundering transactions.

         ¶2 The court of appeals affirmed Butler's convictions, holding that there was sufficient evidence for a juror to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Butler was complicit in Schaner's overall money laundering operation. People v. Butler, 2017 COA 98, ___ P.3d___ . The jury, however, did not convict Butler of complicity in a "money laundering operation," but rather of laundering the proceeds from two specific transactions. Moreover, Colorado's money laundering statute, section 18-5-309, C.R.S. (2019), speaks of liability for "a transaction," not an operation. We therefore conclude that the court of appeals was incorrect to the extent that it suggested that Butler's participation in the overall operation was sufficient, without evidence as to the specific acts charged, to establish his complicitor liability for these convictions. Nonetheless, based on the record, we conclude that there is sufficient evidence to establish Butler's complicity in laundering the proceeds from the two specifically charged transactions. We therefore uphold Butler's convictions.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 In late 2012, police received a tip from a confidential informant that Schaner, through Just Computers, was purchasing and reselling stolen goods. Investigators learned that so-called "boosters" would steal items from retail stores and either sell them directly to Schaner or return them, without a receipt, for merchandise return cards that they would sell to Schaner. Schaner would then re-sell the cards and merchandise on Internet e-commerce platforms. Schaner typically transacted with these boosters out of a small room located in the back of Just Computers, both during and after store hours. This room could be accessed from either the front of the store or a side door leading directly into Schaner's office.

         ¶4 During store hours, Butler ran the front counter of Just Computers as its assistant manager. But in addition to repairing computers and selling computer parts to legitimate customers, Butler assisted Schaner's backroom transactions in a variety of ways. Among other things, Butler sometimes purchased, with Schaner's cash, merchandise cards brought to the front of Just Computers by alleged boosters. He also received near-daily PayPal money transfers from Schaner, which he then withdrew in cash and returned to Schaner. Schaner transferred about $181, 000 from Just Computers' PayPal account to Butler over the course of Butler's two-year employment with the store. During that same time, Butler withdrew approximately $166, 000 in cash from ATMs.

         ¶5 In early 2013, an undercover officer investigating Just Computers made a series of controlled sales of ostensibly stolen merchandise and illicitly obtained cards to Schaner. Two of these sales formed the basis for the money laundering charges at issue here.

         ¶6 First, on the morning of January 29, 2013, Butler brought Schaner cash he had withdrawn from an ATM. Later that day, Detective Blanscet came to Schaner's back office and sold Schaner four packs of Gillette Fusion razor blades that he indicated he had stolen. The blades were listed on eBay through the Just Computers account on January 31. That day, an individual working with the police repurchased the blades and verified that they were the same items sold to Schaner. The money from the sale went to Schaner's PayPal account, and Schaner transferred money from that account to Butler the next morning.

         ¶7 Second, on the morning of February 13, 2013, Butler again brought Schaner cash from Butler's bank account. Detective Blanscet again entered Schaner's back office, this time to sell Schaner a purportedly stolen DeWalt Rotary Hammer Drill. Butler came into the back office during the course of that transaction and saw Blanscet, from whom he himself had earlier purchased an ostensibly stolen Best Buy gift card. Schaner listed the drill on eBay on February 15. Like the blades, the drill was repurchased and verified by investigators. Money from the sale went into Schaner's PayPal account, and money from that account was transferred to Butler the next day.

         ¶8 At trial, a jury convicted Butler on a complicity theory of two counts of money laundering under section 18-5-309(1)(a)(II). The jury verdicts specifically mentioned that these counts pertained to the Gillette razor blades and the DeWalt drill. These two convictions served as the necessary predicates for a further conviction under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act ("COCCA"), §§ 18-17-101 to -109, C.R.S. (2019). The trial court sentenced Butler to eight years in a Community Corrections program.

         ¶9 On appeal, Butler unsuccessfully challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for his money laundering convictions. Butler, ΒΆ 33. Rejecting his claim, a division of the court of appeals ruled that there was sufficient evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, for a juror to reasonably conclude that (1) the principal, Schaner, was involved in a "money laundering operation"; (2) Butler aided, abetted, or encouraged Schaner in "carrying out the illegal operation"; (3) Butler intended to help Schaner conceal or disguise the true nature of "the funds" passing through Just ...

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