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United States v. Barker

filed: June 17, 1992.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
KENNETH BARKER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. CR-88-0194-RAR. Raul A. Ramirez, District Judge, Presiding. Original Opinion Reported at,

Before: William C. Canby, Jr., John T. Noonan, Jr. and Pamela Ann Rymer, Circuit Judges Opinion by Judge Noonan; Dissent by Judge Rymer.

Author: Noonan

Order AMENDING OPINION AND DENYING REHEARING

NOONAN, Circuit Judge:

Kenneth Barker appeals his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 287 of submitting false claims against the United States in a project that Barker undertook for the Army Corps of Engineers. We reverse.

BACKGROUND

Kenneth Barker, the defendant, is a civil engineer with extensive experience in large construction projects. For many years he worked for Bechtel Corporation, most notably as construction manager for the northern half of the Alaska pipeline. He also had governmental experience as construction division manager of the Central Sanitary District of Contra Costa County. Ultimately he went into the construction business for himself as president of Lionsgate Company, a firm owned by himself, his wife and sons.

In 1985 Lionsgate bid on the construction of the San Ramon Channel By-pass, a flood control project of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). Lionsgate was not the low bidder - a fact of significance because it was later suggested that Lionsgate had bid unrealistically in order to get the contract and then cheated to recoup its losses. The low bidder was a subsidiary of a large corporation. As the project was set aside for small business, the low bidder was disqualified, and Lionsgate, a genuine small business, got the job.

On inspecting the site, Barker discovered that substantial changes had occurred between his bid and the award. He immediately notified the Corps that the changes in the site required changes in the contract. The consequent dispute led to Barker beginning work on the project in an atmosphere of animosity.

Relations with the Corps did not improve. What happened is relevant here only as explanatory of why the Corps eventually turned its differences with Barker into a criminal investigation. Barker made an end-run around the local Corps officials: that made them mad. Barker requested that one Corps employee be taken off the job because his practices were unsafe; the Corps retaliated by accusing one of the Barker boys of unsafe conduct. The Barker family was scarcely on speaking terms with another local Corps authority. Instead of consolidating his claims in connection with change orders, Barker filed them singly: the resulting 76 claims created an enormous backlog that the Corps failed to process within the period specified by law. Bad blood boiled between the parties. Barker saw himself, as he said at trial, as "a one-man army against the Federal Government." He charged Corps employees with making "phoney," "fabricated" and "totally false" records of his work. The Corps brought allegations of false claims against Barker to the United States Attorney in Sacramento.

Barker was indicted on 64 counts of making false claims against the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. 287. Of the 76 claims he had filed for Lionsgate, 47 were said to be false. He was alleged to have falsely claimed rates for equipment; falsely inflated costs of leased vehicles; falsely claimed for equipment which was not used the number of hours claimed; falsely claimed for equipment on standby, when it was not on standby; falsely charged time for the same vehicles and equipment; falsely inflated costs for employees; falsely claimed overtime paid to employees that was not paid; falsely claimed twice for the same employees; falsely claimed for a person not employed on the project; falsely claimed for standby time when employees were not standing by; falsely doublebilling overhead. The total of alleged false claims was $769,078.

The 64 counts were further refined by being subdivided into parts, each part charging a separate and specific crime. In all, Barker was charged with the commission of 104 felonies against the United States, all committed between July 1986 and August 1987.

The jury deliberated over 4 days. Of the 104 felony charges against Barker, the jury found him not guilty of 80, was unable to agree as to 21, and found him guilty of 3.

Barker appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and raising various other objections.

ANALYSIS

Barker contends that there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction on counts 33(b), 48(b), and 57(b). In addressing this contention, we must determine whether the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the Government, would permit any rational trier of fact to conclude that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979); United States v. Nelson, 419 F.2d 1237, 1241 (9th Cir. 1969). For a claim to be false it must first be shown not to be in accord with the facts. No reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the claims at issue here were proved to be inaccurate beyond a reasonable doubt. Accepting all inferences favorable to the government but looking at all the evidence before the jury, one cannot find proof of falsity beyond a reasonable doubt.

The government's principal witness as to whether there were in fact any false claims was Stephen Rowe. Rowe held a college degree in civil engineering from San Diego State University, although he was not registered as a civil engineer. He had no formal training in accounting. He had worked for seven years in the Contract Administration section of the Corps as "a claims analyst"; his job was to review documents. Testifying, Rowe presented a chart on which he had marked his Conclusions as to each claim for which Barker was indicted. The basis for his Conclusions was, usually, a document or documents of Lionsgate that he had reviewed.

Count 33(b) involves a claim made by Barker that he and his sons, Wayne and Paul, worked on Sunday, May 25, 1990. The Barkers testified that all three of them had worked all that weekend, but the government introduced ...


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