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United States v. Szanto

November 8, 2007

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
IMRE SZANTO



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Defendant Imre Szanto had trouble finding work as a truck driver in Canada. As a result, he could not provide food and other necessities for his wife and young daughters. On October 24, 2005, he thought his luck had turned around. Two of his co-defendants in this case approached him with a job--driving a truckload of Viagra across the border to Chicago, for which they would pay him $3000. Unbeknownst to Szanto, the truck was actually filled with 20,000 pills containing the drug Ecstacy. Intercepted telephone calls about Szanto's trip had tipped off investigators, who were waiting in Chicago for his arrival. Szanto set out for Chicago that same day-October 24-and not surprisingly, he was arrested when he arrived at the designated drop-off location. Szanto never received the $3000, and his family has not seen him since.

After his arrest, Szanto and 14 co-defendants were charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute the drug Ecstacy. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846. Szanto pleaded guilty and is before the court for sentencing.

The probation officer set forth her calculation of Szanto's sentencing range in her presentence investigation report. She calculated a base offense level of 30. See U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(c)(4), (a)(3)(i). From that, two levels are deducted under the safety valve provision, see U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2, two levels are deducted based upon the parties' agreement in Szanto's plea that he was a minor participant, see U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2(b), and three levels are deducted for his acceptance of responsibility, see U.S.S.G. § 3E1.1(a), (b). The resulting total offense level of 23, combined with a criminal history category of I (based upon zero criminal history points) results in a sentencing range of 46-57 months. The government agrees with the probation officer's calculation.

In his sentencing memorandum, Szanto's counsel argues that Szanto should be considered a minimal, rather than a minor, participant, and is therefore entitled to a four-level, rather than two-level, decrease. The court agrees. Although neither the defendant nor the government has submitted a version of the offense, in his sentencing memorandum and at sentencing, counsel stressed that Szanto did not know that the cargo he was transporting was Ecstacy-he thought it was Viagra. The government did not dispute counsel's assertion. If true, then Szanto had a "lack of knowledge or understanding of the scope and structure of the enterprise and of the activities of others," the definition of a minimal participant under the Sentencing Guidelines. See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2 comment. (n.4).

Szanto's lack of knowledge about the nature of the cargo he transported is also supported by the fact that, according to the plea agreement, Szanto was approached by the co-defendants on the same day that he actually transported the cargo to Chicago. The government has offered no allegation that Szanto knew or had any interaction with the co-defendants other than on that single day. According to Szanto, he was desperate to find work as a truck driver when the co-defendants approached him with a job that he thought involved nothing more than driving a shipment of Viagra to Chicago.

Although the parties agreed in Szanto's plea that he was entitled only to a minor participant reduction, they also agreed that the plea was not governed by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(B), and that the validity of the plea agreement did not turn on the court's acceptance of the parties' anticipated guideline calculations. Accordingly, the court agrees with Szanto's counsel that the defendant was only a minimal participant who did not understand the true nature of the conspiracy to which he has pleaded guilty. Accordingly, in lieu of a two-level reduction under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2(b), the court will apply a four-level reduction under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2(a) based upon Szanto's minimal participation in the charged conspiracy. Szanto's adjusted offense level is therefore 21, which combined with a criminal history category of I results in a sentencing range of 37-46 months.

Sentencing Factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)

Under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), the court must impose a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes of sentencing, which are:

(1) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment;

(2) to create adequate deterrence to crimes by others;

(3) to protect the public from future crimes by the defendant; and

(4) to provide the defendant with necessary treatment and training.

See 18 U.S.C. ยง 3553(a)(2). To those ends, the court must take into account ...


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