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United States v. Seymour

March 24, 2008


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 02 CR 200-Wayne R. Andersen, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.


Before BAUER, FLAUM, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Defendants-Appellants Andre Seymour, Artrez Nyroby Seymour ("Nyroby Seymour"), Kent Clark, Andre Lawrence, Stacia Smith, and Troy Lawrence (collectively, the "Defendants") appeal their respective sentences, claiming that their Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the district court sentenced all Defendants under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) without having the jury make individualized findings regarding the quantities of drugs reasonably foreseeable to each defendant. Defendant Stacia Smith also asserts that the district court erred by not suppressing a gun found in Smith's possession during a January 2002 traffic stop, and that the district court abused its discretion when it denied her motion for a mistrial on the gun-related charge. In addition, Smith contends that there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction on the gun-related charge. Defendant Andre Lawrence also appeals his conviction on the gun-related charge, claiming the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

All six Defendants were convicted, amongst numerous other charges, for conspiring to knowingly and intentionally possess with intent to distribute fifty grams or more of cocaine base, commonly known as "crack," within one thousand feet of an elementary school, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 860(a). Defendants Smith and Andre Lawrence were also convicted of knowingly possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

A. Drug Trafficking Operations

From the early 1990s until March of 2002, the Defendants were involved in a crack trafficking organization ("the Organization") in Chicago Heights, Illinois. The Organization initially sold crack in an area known as Wentworth Gardens. While at Wentworth Gardens, the Organization sold crack twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

During the Wentworth Gardens era, defendants Troy Lawrence, Kent Clark, Stacia Smith, and Nyroby Seymour were among those working for the Organization.

In the late 1990s, the buildings around Wentworth Gardens were condemned and torn down. The Organization then moved to Claude Court, a different area in Chicago Heights that was surrounded by public housing. The Claude Court drug sales location was less than one thousand feet from an elementary school. The Organization was the only group selling crack in the Claude Court area. During the Claude Court era, defendants Andre Lawrence and Andre Seymour joined the Organization; Nyroby Seymour, Troy Lawrence, Kent Clark, and Stacia Smith remained members.

After the relocation, the basic structure of the Organization remained the same: Troy Lawrence was the leader and was responsible for buying the powder cocaine from his suppliers. He stored the cocaine at one of the Organization's stash houses, which were the residences of Organization members. The cocaine was cooked into crack at the stash houses. Once the crack was prepared, other members of the Organization, referred to as "baggers," bagged the crack into small plastic bags, then fifty of the little bags were placed into a larger bag, called a "fifty pack."

After the crack was packaged into fifty packs, a member of the Organization referred to as a "runner" would bring the crack to the sales area-either Wentworth Gardens or Claude Court, depending on the time frame- and deliver it to another member, called the "shift runner" or "shift supervisor." The runner would also pick up drug sale proceeds from the shift supervisor. The shift supervisors were the managers of the sales area. When the area was running low on crack, the shift supervisors would make calls to other members of the Organization to have runners deliver more. After receiving the crack from the runner, shift supervisors gave it to a member of the Organization referred to as a "packman." The packman was responsible for the actual drug-money exchange with the customer.

The Organization also had members that were assigned to security to monitor the drug sales area, watching for law enforcement or anyone looking to rob a member of the Organization. Members on security assignment, as well as other members of the Organization, often carried guns for protection. Members of the Organization also drove cars with hidden "trap compartments,"where they could conceal guns and drugs.

B. Organization Drug Orders and Stash Houses

One of Troy Lawrence's cocaine suppliers, Mark Connor, testified that he sold powder and crack cocaine to Troy Lawrence on and off from 1997 to March 2002. When Troy was unavailable, Connor would call Andre Lawrence, Troy's cousin. At first, Connor sold powder cocaine to Troy Lawrence once or twice a week in 4.5 ounce quantities, which Troy then cooked into crack. As time went on, Troy bought larger quantities of cocaine, including deals for half and full kilograms. Sometime in 1997, Connor cooked up a half kilogram of cocaine for Troy Lawrence after Troy questioned the quality of the cocaine Connor was selling. From early 2000 to November of 2001, Connor heard from Troy Lawrence once or twice a week for a couple of weeks, but then would not hear from him for a few months at a time. During November and December 2001, Troy bought cocaine from Connor more frequently and in greater quantities, ranging from one to three kilograms per transaction.

Troy stored the cocaine at the Organization's stash houses. Smith's home in Lynwood, Illinois, a Chicago apartment referred to as "the Hideout," and Andre Lawrence's home in Chicago were Organization stash houses. Troy and another of his cocaine suppliers, "JT," frequently discussed cocaine deals in Smith's apartment, and both Smith and Andre Lawrence knew that the Organization was storing cocaine in their homes. Connor delivered cocaine to Troy at a restaurant Troy owned, as well as at the Hideout and Andre Lawrence's house. Between 1999 and 2002 alone, Connor delivered cocaine to Andre Lawrence's house an estimated twenty times. On approximately ten occasions while inside Andre Lawrence's house, Connor saw members of the Organization, including Andre Lawrence, bagging crack; on one occasion around Christmas of 2001, Connor saw Andre Lawrence take a gun out of the waistband of his pants and place it on a television inside the house. Connor also delivered cocaine to the Hideout on approximately five to ten occasions.

Levert Griffin, a member of the Organization who served as a runner at both Wentworth Gardens and Claude Court, testified that the Organization used Smith and Andre Lawrence's residences to store and bag crack. Griffin testified that he personally bagged crack with Andre Lawrence and other individuals inside Andre Lawrence's house and that on one occasion at Andre Lawrence's house, he saw a black handgun in the bedroom. Griffin also bagged crack at Smith's apartment with other individuals, including Andre Seymour, who worked as a shift supervisor for the Organization. From time to time and at Troy Lawrence's direction, Griffin purchased cocaine in approximately one kilogram quantities from suppliers JT and Connor. After purchasing the cocaine, Griffin brought the drugs to Smith's apartment, where Griffin knew drugs and drug proceeds were stored for the Organization.

In February of 2002, Troy Lawrence began paying for Organization member Tasha Deere's apartment in Chicago Heights. Deere's apartment was then used as a stash house, and members of the Organization were there bagging crack every day. Troy brought crack to Deere's house, and at least five members of the Organization bagged it, including Andre Seymour and Troy. Deere's apartment was also used to stash drug proceeds, which Troy would pick up every two to three days.

C. Investigation of the Organization

Federal law enforcement began investigating the Organization's drug trafficking operations in July of 2000. Federal agents received court authorization to place wire taps on Griffin's and Troy Lawrence's telephones and to intercept text messages sent to pagers that belonged to Troy Lawrence and another Organization member named Cameron Wilson.

On various occasions, both the Chicago Heights Police and federal law enforcement agents seized drugs, drug proceeds and firearms from members of the Organization. For example, on July 5, 2000, the Chicago Heights Police officers seized forty-four small plastic bags containing crack dumped by Nyroby Seymour as he ran from police; after the chase, Nyroby was arrested (for the second time) for selling crack. Three days later, the Chicago Heights Police seized over $16,000 in cash from Troy Lawrence and his vehicle.

In October of 2000, law enforcement stopped Smith while she was driving her car near the Claude Court drug sales location. The officers had seen Smith take a white plastic grocery bag from a man in the drug sales area and drive away. While she drove away the officers noticed an unrestrained child in the front seat and decided to stop her. The officers asked Smith (who was pregnant at the time) if she had any drugs or weapons in the car, to which she replied that she did not. The officers then asked for permission to search her purse and car, and Smith agreed.

While searching Smith's purse, the officers found a white plastic bag, which contained cash and slips of paper with names or aliases written on them. The officers seized the contents of the plastic bag, gave Smith a receipt for the items, and allowed Smith to leave. The evidence obtained from this traffic stop was later suppressed by the district court.

On December 26, 2001, runner Griffin was stopped by Chicago Heights Police officers and was found to have a gun and 10.9 grams of crack in a trap compartment of his car. On January 7, 2002, Kent Clark was stopped in Glenwood, Illinois, and officers found $7,539 wrapped in a rubber band inside a plastic ...

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