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United States v. Saulter

July 6, 1995






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

No. 93 CR 20028--Phillip G. Reinhard, Judge.

Before COFFEY, FLAUM, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.



Defendants Fred Saulter and Ilander Willis were convicted of conspiring to distribute and distributing cocaine and cocaine base, popularly known as crack. In this joint appeal, Saulter asserts that the government presented insufficient evidence with which to convict him and disputes the admission of certain evidence against him. Saulter also contests the admission of conversations recorded by one cooperating witness, while both defendants object to another cooperating witness's interpretation of different recorded conversations to which the witness was not a party. Willis separately challenges the admission of allegedly cumulative expert testimony regarding the manufacture of crack and makes several objections to his sentence. We affirm.


Melvin Jones, a convicted criminal cooperating with the government by making undercover drug purchases, visited Ma & Pa Beasley's restaurant in Rockford, Illinois, on June 8, 1993. He had previously bought cocaine from Willis and his co-conspirators, including Saulter, James Henry, and Wilbert Barber, at this site and at Willis's apartment, located at 932 Lincoln Street in Rockford. That day, Jones, wearing a tape recording device, asked Henry where he could find Willis. Henry unsuccessfully attempted to locate Willis and then told Jones to return later. Jones went instead to the Lincoln apartment and asked Saulter for Willis and an ounce of cocaine. Willis told Saulter to accompany Jones to the restaurant, where Henry would take care of Jones. During the drive over, Saulter offered to "cook" the cocaine for Jones, meaning he would convert it into crack; Jones declined the proposal. After discussions between Saulter and Henry at the restaurant, Saulter sold Jones one ounce of cocaine (later found by the FBI to equal only twenty-two grams) for $1,400.

On June 15, Jones met with Willis, Henry, and a man named "Judo" at the Spiff 'Em Up Car Wash. The men first discussed Saulter's ability to cook cocaine, and Jones said he wanted to contact Saulter. When Willis asked if he had an ounce to cook, Jones responded that he wanted to buy one from Willis. Willis directed Judo to go with Jones to the Lincoln apartment to discuss the purchase and cooking with Saulter.

After obtaining money from the FBI (which gave him only enough for one-half ounce), Jones went to Ma & Pa Beasley's where he discussed the price for one-half ounce with Willis. Willis instructed someone called "Fishman" to get the cocaine. Jones paid Fishman $550, but did not immediately receive the drugs. Jones then followed Judo to the Lincoln apartment and another location, but the men could not find Saulter. Judo subsequently handed Jones the cocaine.

On July 1, Jones once again went to Ma & Pa Beasley's and spoke with Henry about purchasing an ounce of cocaine for Saulter to cook. After obtaining the cocaine from Henry, Jones went to the Lincoln apartment, where Henry said Saulter was expecting him. When Jones arrived Saulter cooked the cocaine, resulting in nineteen grams of crack. Jones recorded all of these conversations and, at trial, identified the conspiracy members' voices as well as interpreted their discussions.

Donald Box, a member of another large-scale drug operation in Rockford, also bought cocaine from Willis and his organization. Sometime during the spring of 1992, Box purchased two kilograms from Willis at the Lincoln apartment. He later returned the drugs for a refund because an ounce he had cooked had failed to harden into crack. In late June or early July, 1993, Box requested one kilogram from Willis. Saulter and Willis delivered that quantity to Box at Ma & Pa Beasley's parking lot. After being arrested on drug charges, Box agreed to cooperate with the government and testified at Willis and Saulter's trial about these purchases.

The FBI obtained, in another investigation, legal wiretaps of the cellular phone belonging to Karl Fort, one of Box's co-conspirators, and a phone at the Spiff 'Em Up Car Wash. The agency recorded several conversations between Willis and Fort. During the first, on June 4, 1993, Willis asked Fort if is was okay to send Saulter over to see him, to which Fort agreed. Willis then mentioned the "soft thing" and described it as good. Box testified that Willis was referring to the texture of cocaine.

On June 7, Box and Fort told Willis that the one-half kilogram of cocaine they had purchased from him was five ounces short. Willis said he would make it up the next time and then quoted Fort a price of 25 per "pie." Box stated this meant $25,000 per kilogram of cocaine. On June 9, Fort spoke with Saulter and Willis. He told the men that the "pie" was straight. Box testified that this referred to a kilogram of good cocaine Fort had recently purchased from Willis.

FBI agents executed a search warrant at the Lincoln apartment on July 28, 1993. They seized a wallet containing $772 and an additional $1,545 from elsewhere in the apartment, all later identified as belonging to Barber. The agents also recovered two police scanners, a walkie-talkie, a hand-held scanner, two loaded firearms, two utility bills addressed to Barber, and two letters addressed to Willis.

On December 21, 1993, Willis, Saulter, Barber and Henry were indicted for conspiring, from 1989 to July 28, 1993, to distribute cocaine and mixtures containing cocaine base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. sec. 846. Willis also was charged with two counts of distributing cocaine, while Saulter was charged with one count each of distributing cocaine and distributing crack, all in violation of 21 U.S.C. sec. 841(a)(1). Barber and Henry pleaded guilty, but Willis and Saulter jointly stood trial. The jury found both defendants guilty on all charges against them. The district court sentenced ...

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