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United States v. James

September 2, 2008


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 04 CR 285-J.P. Stadtmueller, Judge.

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


Before KANNE, SYKES, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

A federal jury convicted Ted Robertson, Calvin James, and Jarvis King of conspiring to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and 50 grams or more of cocaine base. See 18 U.S.C. § 2; 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846. The district court subsequently sentenced Robertson and James to 360 months' imprisonment each, and King to life in prison. All three men challenge their convictions on appeal, and James and King challenge their sentences as well. We affirm.


In December 2004, a federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against 29 defendants, including Robertson, James, and King, alleging that they were members of what was more widely known as the Cherry Street Mob-a loosely organized, long-running drug-trafficking ring that operated in the Lisbon Square neighborhood in the west side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. See 18 U.S.C. § 2; 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846. Twenty-five of Robertson's, James's, and King's named co-defendants eventually entered into plea agreements with the government. But Robertson, James, and King each eschewed the idea of pleading guilty, and elected to proceed to trial. At trial, the government presented evidence of the three men's participation in the Mob, including the testimony of nine of their co-conspirators-Kevin Arnett, Corey Crook, Cameron Gilbert, Joseph Gooden, Kinyater Grant, Marlon Hood, Percy Hood, Dale Huff, and Lanell Taylor-and recordings of wiretapped telephone conversations between several members of the conspiracy. That evidence, which we recount in a light most favorable to the government, United States v. Gougis, 432 F.3d 735, 743 (7th Cir. 2005), revealed the following:

Beginning in 1988, Robertson, James, and several of their co-conspirators began selling small amounts of powder cocaine near Cherry Street in Milwaukee's Lisbon Square neighborhood-a neighborhood that, at the time, was transforming essentially into an open-air drug market. At first, Robertson acted as the primary source of cocaine for the group and recruited his friend, Huff, to sell drugs for him. But a few years after Robertson enlisted Huff, Huff established himself as the primary source of cocaine for the drug dealers operating in the Cherry Street area.

The drug dealers decided to call themselves the Cherry Street Mob, and worked to consolidate their efforts to open and to maintain a series of drug houses; they also eventually graduated from selling powder cocaine to manufacturing and selling crack cocaine. Each of the three defendants played an integral role in the consolidation of the Mob's presence in the neighborhood. James allowed his mother's home to be used as a drug house for Robertson, Huff, and others; worked in a series of drug houses later established by Mob members; acted as a middleman to broker drug deals between other members of the Mob; and helped Mob members develop drug clientele. Moreover, James developed a close relationship with Huff, and in 2003 Huff employed James as a bodyguard. As part of his duties, James accompanied Huff to deals with the Mob's suppliers, helped Huff run several drug houses, and traveled to Texas with Huff to obtain large quantities of cocaine to supply the organization.

Robertson, in turn, operated a series of drug houses with a number of other members of the Cherry Street Mob, including James and King. Robertson allowed numerous members of the Mob to manufacture and to package crack at these houses. And although Huff had become the primary source of cocaine for the Cherry Street area, Robertson also occasionally supplied the drug to other members of the Mob.

King was brought into the fold after the Cherry Street Mob had been operating for nearly a decade, and he began by working in drug houses run by Robertson and his cousins, Percy and Marlon Hood. King later operated a drug house with Robertson, and eventually began operating and overseeing drug houses with, among other co-conspirators, his cousin Percy. As part of this partnership, King and Percy would pool their money to purchase cocaine from Huff.

The Cherry Street Mob went through several periods of fluctuation during its 16 years of operation. Several of the Mob's members-including Robertson, Huff, and King-were occasionally arrested for various crimes and sent to jail or prison for short periods of time; the men would then resume their roles in the conspiracy upon their release. The group also experienced some intra-organizational discord over money, drug supplies, and clientele. These disputes led to some drug houses disbanding, and sometimes led to violence; for instance, a dispute led Robertson to "bust[ ] up" a drug house so that others could not operate there, and a dust-up over money led King to shoot Robertson in the foot with a handgun.

But these occasional disruptions aside, each member of the Cherry Street Mob depended on each other to a substantial degree. For the most part, each member would obtain his or her cocaine from Huff or Robertson, and would refer customers to other members' houses if his or her supply of crack was running low. Moreover, the members depended on one another to defend the Cherry Street area against encroaching outside drug-dealers. Robertson, James, King, and Huff, in particular, played large roles both in protecting the Cherry Street territory and in acting as enforcers for the Mob. In fact, Huff hid firearms in various locations throughout the Cherry Street area so Mob members would have easy access to them in the event that violence erupted. Finally, the members all worked to notify each other of the presence of police officers in the area. King's cousin, Marlon Wood, best described the Mob members' interdependency: "[W]e all in the same conspiracy . . . we all working a big ball, like I told you all, it seems like it's a knot. Jarvis King, me, him, Percy Hood . . . we did our thing. I messed with Ted Robertson. [Percy] messed with Ted Robertson and Calvin James. You know, Jarvis is my first cousin, so you know, he family, so when we did something we was doing it together."

At the close of evidence, Robertson, James, and King all moved for judgments of acquittal, arguing that the evidence failed to establish that they participated in the drug conspiracy. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a). The district court denied the motions, determining that the wiretap evidence and the testimony of the three men's co-conspirators was "more than sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a conspiracy." The court then submitted the case to the jury, which subsequently found Robertson, James, ...

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