Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, November 27, 2023


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Court of Appeal:

Five Years Won’t Be Lopped From Fraudster’s Sentence

Since Initial 2017 Sentencing, Prison Term Has Been Nearly Halved Following Appellate Court Remands; Opinion Says Amendments to Penal Code Enacted in 2021 Do Not Bar Imposing Enhancement


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Matthew Mazur—a man who defrauded investors out of more than $3.3 million through misrepresentations as to potential sales of disposable syringes and was sentenced in 2017 to 35 years and eight months in prison, with the prison time later whittled to 23 years after a second resentencing hearing—has failed in his effort to persuade Div. One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal to order a further reduction of his term to 18 years.

The scheme wiped out the life savings of victims, some vulnerable seniors.

Justice Martin Buchanan authored the opinion, filed Tuesday, which rejects the contention that, under recent legislation, a five-year enhancement was barred because it brings the total period of confinement above a two-decade mark in the absence of a trial court finding that justifies it.

A jury had convicted Mazur and a codefendant on Oct. 10, 2017, on 35 counts including grand theft, securities fraud, and tax fraud. They were initially sentenced by San Diego Superior Court Judge Laura W. Halgren on Dec. 15, 2017.

The Court of Appeal on Nov. 19, 2019, in an unpublished decision, affirmed the judgment except as to two counts of grand theft and remanded for a resentencing. A new term was imposed: 27 years in prison.

Writ Petition Succeeds

Mazur then petitioned in the Court of Appeal for a writ habeas corpus, which was granted on July 14, 2022. A sentencing enhancement had been imposed invalidly, Div. One held, ordering a second resentencing.

At a hearing before Halgren, Mazur argued that a five-year white-collar enhancement based on the losses exceeding $500,000 could not be imposed in light of Penal Code §1385(c)(2)(C), created by 2021 legislation. It provides that where “an enhancement could result in a sentence of over 20 years…, the enhancement shall be dismissed.”

Subd. (C) sets forth one of nine factors in mitigation justifying dismissal.

Mazur imposed the enhancement, bringing the sentence to 23 years, noting that §1385(c)(1) provides:

“Notwithstanding any other law, the court shall dismiss an enhancement if it is in the furtherance of justice to do so, except if dismissal of that enhancement is prohibited by any initiative statute.”

Judge’s Explanation

She declared:

“I also need to look at the entirety of the case. And...I can’t eliminate from my mind the extreme distress and distraught nature of the victims in this case and how the frauds, on some of them in particular, destroyed their lives and their families’ lives.”

Halgren pointed to a 95-year-old man who was legally blind who had been bilked by Mazur whose daughter was “caused great emotional distress” and a woman who had convinced family members they would profit from investing and was “devastated” when they received no return.

The judge commented:

“When I look at all of the victims and look at the amount of taking and recognize that at the end of the day, the actual sentence for each of the individual victims is quite small. The only reason that the sentence is large is because there were so many of them.

“And the white-collar crime enhancement exists to show, I think, that an additional punishment is appropriate because of the great taking, which isn’t really represented by just the number of victims.

“So I do not find that it is in the interest of justice to strike that enhancement, even taking into account Mr. Mazur’s obvious poor health.”

Argument on Appeal

On appeal, Mazur argued that dismissal of the enhancement was required because it caused the sentence to exceed 20 years, and because that factor was coupled with the lack of a finding by Halgren that unless the enhancement were imposed, “public safety” would be jeopardized.

He relied on §1385(c)(2) which says that “[i]n exercising its discretion under this subdivision, the court shall consider and afford great weight to evidence offered by the defendant to prove that any of the mitigating circumstances” that are specified—including the sentence being caused to exceed 20 years—“unless the court finds that dismissal of the enhancement would endanger public safety.”

Halgren made no such finding, meaning that dismissal was mandatory, Mazur asserted; the required finding, the Office of Attorney General countered, is that dismissal would not be “in the furtherance of justice” and that finding was made.

Buchanan’s Opinion

“We agree with the People,” Buchanan wrote, explaining:

“Construed as a whole, the statute makes clear that all the mitigating circumstances listed in subdivision (c)(2) merely guide the court’s discretion in determining whether a dismissal is in furtherance of justice. Subdivision (c)(1) first sets forth the controlling ‘furtherance of justice’ standard for dismissal. Subdivision (c)(2) then states that the court must give great weight to the presence of any one or more of the nine listed mitigating circumstances ‘[i]n exercising its discretion’ whether to dismiss.”

He declared that the “shall be dismissed” language in subdivision (c)(2)(C) “only requires the court to dismiss the enhancement if it first finds that dismissal is ‘in the furtherance of justice.’ ”

The jurist added:

“By its terms, the ‘endanger public safety’ language pertains only to the weight a trial court must give to the mitigating circumstances.”

“By its terms, the ‘endanger public safety’ language pertains only to the weight a trial court must give to the mitigating circumstances.”

The case is People v. Mazur, 2023 S.O.S. 4174.

The device Mazur promoted, called “SafeSnap,” was a syringe with a needle that retracted into a compartment rather than having to be placed in a separate container for disposal, so that the singe unit could be tossed out. While making a prototype to display to investors, Mazur and his coconspirator, Carlos Manjarrez, did not manufacture a sufficient number of disposable syringes for sales, despite representations that the devices were being successfully marketed in the U.S. and abroad.

Manjarrez, who invented the device, was sentenced in 2018 to 21 years, eight months in prison.


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