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United States v. Romero

June 15, 1995

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

EFREN ROMERO AND RAPHAEL LARA-ACEVES,

DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 93 CR 245--James F. Holderman, Judge.

Before ESCHBACH, FLAUM, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MAY 9, 1995

DECIDED JUNE 15, 1995

Defendants Efren Romero and Raphael Lara-Aceves were convicted of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute and attempting to possess with intent to distribute three kilograms of cocaine. In this joint appeal, both men challenge their convictions for sufficiency of the evidence. Additionally, Romero disputes an evidentiary ruling and a jury instruction, while Lara separately contests a sentencing enhancement he received for obstruction of justice. We now affirm.

I.

The story of this case begins in January, 1993, when Sergio Garcia, a cooperating individual working with the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"), started communicating on a regular basis with Miguel Cassimoro. Garcia posed as a potential cocaine seller, and Cassimoro offered to locate buyers for Garcia.

On March 21, 1993, Cassimoro paged Garcia. Garcia called Cassimoro, and Cassimoro informed Garcia that he had found buyers for him. Cassimoro then put defendant Romero on the telephone, and Romero expressed an interest in purchasing cocaine. Romero also indicated that he knew others who would be interested.

The next day, Garcia and an undercover drug agent from the Northeast Metropolitan Enforcement Group ("NMEG") met Cassimoro. After talking with Garcia and the NMEG agent, Cassimoro took them to the basement apartment of Jorge Castellanos, where the three talked with Romero about a cocaine sale. Romero told the agent that his buyers had money for the drugs and were ready to proceed with the deal. Romero, Garcia, and the agent then drove around the north side of Chicago, unsuccessfully looking for the buyer.

Cassimoro again paged Garcia on March 23, 1993. When Garcia responded to the page, Cassimoro informed him that Romero wanted three kilograms of cocaine. Cassimoro then put Romero on the telephone, at which time Romero asked Garcia to call him "Primo" and the two agreed to deal directly with one another. Later that same day, Romero and Garcia spoke again and agreed to meet at a gas station. Garcia and another NMEG agent went to the gas station and met with Romero. The agent showed Romero a fake kilogram of cocaine, and Romero attempted to contact buyers, again without success. Another deal fell through on March 24. Garcia and Romero had spoken on the phone, and Romero had said that he had a buyer. Garcia and Romero, along with another NMEG agent, met the buyer in north Chicago. The deal collapsed, however, when the agent refused to deliver the cocaine prior to receiving any money.

On March 29, 1993, Romero contacted Garcia once more and told him about still another buyer. They agreed to speak the next day. On March 30, 1993, Romero and Garcia had a number of telephone conversations, during which Romero told Garcia that his buyers wanted to acquire "three pairs of boots"--understood to mean three kilograms of cocaine--and that the deal should occur the following day. Romero indicated that he would not be present at the transaction because he had to work, but he asked Garcia to meet him after the drug sale so that he could collect his broker's commission.

On March 31, 1993, Garcia and yet a different NMEG agent went to Castellanos's apartment, arriving at about 4:30 p.m. Castellanos, defendant Lara, Pedro Cerda, Pedro's wife Maria, and the Cerdas' son were inside the apartment when Garcia and the agent arrived. Garcia and the agent were introduced to the group, and the agent asked if they were ready to purchase the cocaine. Castellanos said that they were ready but wanted to see "the three" first. Garcia and the agent responded by asking about the money, which Lara twice assured them had been properly counted and amounted to $67,500. They then discussed the quality of Garcia's cocaine. Garcia described the three kilograms as "La Reina," a high quality brand.

As the men pondered their drugs and money, Maria Cerda, in response to a cue from her husband, left the apartment with her son. Pedro told Garcia and the agent that Maria had gone to retrieve the money. Maria returned a few minutes later and dropped off a bag. Maria and the child then left and did not return. Lara took the bag and placed it on a table. He then unzipped the bag, exposing a bundle of money--later counted as $59,500-- wrapped in aluminum foil. When the agent saw the ...


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