Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Lauria (Defendant), operated an answering service and knew that some of his customers were prostitutes who used the service to pick up calls from potential clients.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A supplier becomes part of a criminal conspiracy when, knowing that his goods are being used for unlawful purposes, there is direct evidence that he intends to participate in the furtherance of the crime, or where an inference of intent can be drawn through either (a) his special interest in the activity or (b) the aggravated nature of the crime itself.
Issue. Is a supplier criminally liable for the unlawful acts of his customers whom he knows use his services to advance an unlawful enterprise?
Held. Yes. Affirmed.
The first way that intent to advance the unlawful enterprise can be inferred is through actions taken by supplier to indicate that he has a stake in the unlawful activity. However, in this case, there was no evidence that the Defendant inflated the charges of his prostitute clients to make money off their activities.
Intent may also be imputed to the supplier when no legitimate use for the goods or services exists. In this case, though, providing a telephone answering service to others is a perfectly legitimate enterprise in itself.
A third way that intent to advance the unlawful enterprise may be imputed to a supplier is where the volume of business with the buyer is grossly disproportionate to any legitimate demand, or when the greatest proportion of the supplier’s business comes from the unlawful use of his services. But there was no evidence of an unusual volume of business in the case against defendant.
Nonetheless, in felony cases, knowledge alone has been sufficient to impute criminal responsibility to a supplier, where the supplier has a duty to disassociate himself with the criminal enterprise. This case, however, concerned a misdemeanor charge.
In this case, the Defendant took no direct action to further the criminal enterprise. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence that the Defendant participated in a criminal conspiracy to further prostitution activity.
Discussion. Here, the court makes clear that a supplier’s knowledge that his services are being used for a criminal purpose is not, by itself, evidence that he was part of a conspiracy to further the criminal purpose.