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Steele v. United States

October 31, 2006

DARYL STEELE, PETITIONER,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is pro se Petitioner Daryl Steele's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the following reasons, the Court denies Steele's Section 2255 motion.

BACKGROUND

I. Procedural Background

On December 5, 2001, Steele was charged in a two-count indictment that included one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and one count of attempt to commit extortion. See 18 U.S.C. § 1951. At trial, the Government presented evidence that from May 1999 through December 3, 2001, Steele conspired with his co-conspirators to extort money from drug dealers through fear and under color of official right. On March 12, 2003, a jury convicted Steele on both counts of the indictment. The Court subsequently sentenced Steele to 96 months' imprisonment.

On appeal, Steele argued that the Court erred in applying USSG § 2C1.1, which governs offenses involving extortion under color of official right. Steele also argued that the Court erred in imposing a 2-level enhancement under USSG § 2C1.1(b)(1). Last, Steele challenged his sentence based on Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 124 S.Ct. 2531, 159 L.Ed.2d 403 (2004); see also United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 125 S.Ct. 738, 160 L.Ed.2d 621 (2005).

The Seventh Circuit remanded Steele's case for the Court to address whether Steele's sentence would have been different had the sentencing guidelines not been viewed as mandatory. See United States v. Paladino, 401 F.3d 471 (7th Cir. 2005). On February 6, 2006, the Court issued a statement informing the Seventh Circuit that Steele's sentence would remain the same. On August 23, 2006, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Court's sentencing determinations.

II. Evidence Presented at Trial

At trial, the Government presented evidence that from May 1999 through December 3, 2001, Steele conspired with co-conspirators Darian Williams, Ernest "Newt" Butler, and Andre Patterson to extort money from drug dealers through wrongful use of fear and under color of official right. At the time of the conspiracy, Williams was employed by the Police Department of Inkster, Michigan and held the rank of Detective Sergeant. Prior to the conspiracy, Butler assisted Steele in at least two drug transactions with Rogelio Aguirre, a drug dealer in Chicago, Illinois.

A. May 1999 Extortion

Trial evidence of the May 1999 extortion included testimony that Steele asked Butler if he could arrange a meeting with Detective Sergeant Williams, Butler's nephew. Steele then met with Williams at Butler's home in Detroit, Michigan. Steele asked Williams if he would participate in a "rip," in which Williams would conduct a mock traffic stop -- while he was in uniform and on duty -- and seize drug proceeds from Aguirre. The plan was that Aguirre would sell narcotics to Steele while their girlfriends -- Maria Garza and Caroline Ferguson -- held the purchase money in their vehicle. As soon as Aguirre delivered the narcotics to Steele, Williams would conduct the mock traffic stop and seize the proceeds. Williams agreed to participate in this planned drug "rip."

Approximately a week later, the co-conspirators executed the "rip." While Steele and Aguirre exchanged drugs, Butler and Williams surveilled Garza and Ferguson who were traveling with the money. Williams, who was on duty and in a marked police car, waited for a signal from Steele to conduct the mock "traffic stop." At approximately 11:00 p.m., Steele called Williams on his mobile phone indicating that the "rip" was a "go." Williams then turned on his overhead lights and pulled over the vehicle with Garza, Ferguson, and another woman inside. At the time of the stop, Ferguson, Steele's girlfriend, was driving the vehicle. Williams asked the women to exit the vehicle and requested Ferguson's license and registration. Thereafter, Williams searched the vehicle and seized a bag containing money. Williams then asked who owned the bag and Ferguson responded that she did. As part of the sham, Williams placed Ferguson under arrest and put her in the backseat of the police car. Williams advised the women that he was taking the bag as evidence. Williams left the scene with the bag and Ferguson. After that, Williams met with Steele and Butler in Detroit. The seized bag contained approximately $350,000 to $400,000. According to Williams' trial testimony, Steele paid Williams and Butler $15,000 for their role in the extortion.

B. December 2001 Extortion

Meanwhile, in September 1999, Steele alleged that Aguirre car-jacked and robbed him in Inkster, Michigan. Consequently, Steele pressed criminal charges against Aguirre. Williams was assigned to the case and assisted Steele in filing criminal charges against Aguirre. Further, Williams obtained a warrant for Aguirre's arrest in Chicago. Thereafter, Butler contacted Aguirre and told Aguirre that Steele would drop the car-jacking case for $150,000. Aguirre said he would get back to Butler. Aguirre's attorney then contacted Butler and warned him that he would be subject to criminal charges if he ever contacted Aguirre again. Butler told Steele about his conversation with Aguirre's attorney.

During the Summer of 2000, the Chicago Police arrested Aguirre on unrelated charges. Aguirre then faced extradition to Michigan to answer to the car-jacking and armed robbery charges. Based on his prior criminal record, Aguirre was facing a possible life sentence if convicted of the Michigan charges. On November 15, 2001, Steele, Butler, Williams, and Patterson traveled to Chicago for Aguirre's extradition hearing. During the ride to Chicago, they discussed extorting money from Aguirre in return for dropping the Michigan charges.

Following the hearing, Butler approached Aguirre's girlfriend, Garza, and told her of Steele's offer to have the Michigan charges dropped for $150,000. Trial testimony indicates the plan was that Aguirre would pay $150,000 to Steele, Butler, and Williams. Steele, with the assistance of Williams, would then file an affidavit in which Steele would refuse to ...


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