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United Stats v. Alcantar

May 7, 1996




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 93 CR 833--Marvin E. Aspen, Chief Judge.

Before CUMMINGS, RIPPLE, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

ROVNER, Circuit Judge.



Juan Alcantar was convicted by a jury of conspiring to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. secs. 841(a)(1) & 846, and of attempting to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. sec. 846. The district court sentenced Alcantar to a prison term of 188 months. In this appeal, Alcantar argues that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his conspiracy conviction because the government's case depended upon the inherently incredible testimony of a confidential informant. Alcantar therefore requests that we reverse that conviction and remand for resentencing on the surviving conviction for attempted possession. Yet we find the evidence sufficient to establish Alcantar's participation in a narcotics distribution conspiracy and therefore affirm.


The government's case at trial relied heavily on the testimony of Mario Lopez, who in the midst of the events at issue here, agreed to cooperate with the government by acting as a confidential informant. In October 1992, Lopez was sharing a Chicago apartment located at 2654 South Drake Street with Jose "Tito" Santamaria when Tito's cousin Esteban Zapata moved in. Zapata was a drug dealer, and he soon recruited Lopez to work on his behalf. Zapata would obtain cocaine from two sources--his cousin Marco Zapata in Dallas, Texas, and Marco Rodriguez in Mexico. These suppliers would ship cocaine to a source in Elgin, Illinois, where it would be picked up and brought to Chicago by one of Zapata's subordinates. The cocaine would then be distributed through Zapata's extensive distribution network. Alcantar and his co-defendant Ismael Cano were alleged to be two of Zapata's Chicago distributors.

Lopez testified that he picked up his first shipment of cocaine for Zapata in Elgin in late December 1992. That was a fifty kilogram shipment, and Zapata stored the cocaine in a garage owned by Tito's brother. Zapata initially had difficulty getting rid of this cocaine at the price he was seeking because cocaine prices in Chicago were somewhat depressed at the time. Chicago prices soon rose, however, and Zapata was then able to distribute the entire shipment.

With this change in fortunes, Zapata began receiving cocaine shipments approximately once every two weeks. Zapata used Lopez to pick up the shipments in Elgin, usually from a man Lopez knew only as Cuco. Lopez would travel to a designated parking lot off Route 31, park next to Cuco, pop open his trunk, and wait as Cuco placed a bag of cocaine inside. Lopez generally would not pay for the cocaine upon receipt, but only after the shipment had been distributed. At that point, Lopez would travel back to Elgin, pay Cuco, and learn when the next cocaine shipment would arrive.

After receiving a shipment, Lopez would take the cocaine to his girlfriend's residence on South Hoyne Street, inspect it, and then call Zapata. He would learn from Zapata how much cocaine should be delivered to each of Zapata's eight or nine distributors. Tito and Lopez would then make the deliveries.

Zapata initially told Lopez that Cano's cocaine should be delivered to Alcantar, who is Cano's brother-in-law. Lopez (and sometimes Tito) would drive to an alley behind South Kolin Street where Alcantar would meet them. There, they would transfer a beer case packed with cocaine to Alcantar through an open window. Alcantar did not pay for the cocaine at this time. Instead, several days later, Cano would deliver a portion of the amount owed Zapata to the South Drake Street apartment, while Alcantar would deliver the remainder to Lopez in the South Kolin Street alley. On occasion, Cano would instruct Zapata to deliver a portion of his cocaine to a man named "Jessie," and Lopez and Tito would then deliver half of Cano's cocaine to Alcantar and half to Jessie.

Zapata's cocaine operation functioned smoothly between January and March 1993, with Zapata receiving and successfully distributing approximately ten shipments. In late March, however, a dispute developed between Zapata and his suppliers that interrupted the regular shipments of cocaine. Zapata's suppliers maintained that approximately $300,000 was owed to them and that the money was needed to pay their source in Mexico. Zapata insisted that he had paid the missing money to Cuco, but the suppliers refused to send additional shipments until the dispute was resolved.

On April 22, 1993, a court-authorized wiretap was placed on the telephone at the South Drake Street apartment. Between April 22 and July 12, 1993, federal agents monitored approximately 2,800 calls, including many relating to the missing $300,000 and to Zapata's efforts to obtain further cocaine shipments. On April 24, for example, Alcantar attempted to reach Zapata at the South Drake Street apartment but spoke instead to Rolando Lopez. Alcantar asked Rolando if there was going to be any more work, but Rolando said he did not yet know.

The dispute between Zapata and his suppliers was never adequately resolved, and Zapata was therefore unable to obtain further cocaine shipments from his cousin or Rodriguez. On July 12, 1993, Zapata, Tito, and Rolando Lopez were murdered in the South Drake Street apartment. By that time, Mario Lopez had moved out of the apartment and was living with his girlfriend on South Hoyne Street. Lopez had visited the South Drake Street apartment on the afternoon of July 12, but he had left at approximately 7:00 p.m. Lopez learned of the murders when Chicago police officers came to his girlfriend's apartment later that evening. Over the next several days, local police and federal drug enforcement agents questioned Lopez about his murdered friends. Lopez said nothing about the money dispute until the agents confronted him with their knowledge of Zapata's drug trafficking operations. Lopez then ...

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