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United States v. Johnson

January 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


A. Introduction and Background

On October 22, 2008, Johnson was indicted for knowingly and intentionally distributing five kilograms or more of cocaine (Count 1) and being a felon in possession of a firearm (Count 2) (Doc. 12). The Government also included two forfeiture counts in the complaint, seeking all property constituting or derived from the alleged criminal offenses (Count 4) and seeking forfeiture of firearms and ammunition in Johnson's possession (Count 5).

On December 17, 2008, Johnson filed a motion to suppress physical evidence obtained from 5706 Westmoreland, Washington Park, Illinois on the grounds that the search warrant was not supported by probable cause (Doc. 38). The Government submitted its response on December 24, 2008 (Doc. 43).*fn1 On January 15, 2009, the Court held a hearing on the motion to suppress.

For the reasons thoroughly explained below, the Court hereby DENIES Johnson's motion to suppress (Doc. 38).

B. The Search Warrant's Supporting Affidavit

On April 4, 2008, law enforcement officers sought a warrant to search the house at 5706 Westmoreland for the purpose of locating controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, firearms, and items or records related to drug trafficking (Doc. 43-2). The application for the search warrant was accompanied by an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Nicholas J. Manns.

The affidavit traces law enforcement's investigations of Johnson dating back to 1994, when he was arrested and later pled guilty to cocaine distribution charges (Doc. 43-2, ¶ 4). Agent Manns then recounts specific information obtained in March 2008, both from FBI investigations and confidential informants (CIs), indicating that Johnson and his nephew, Marlon Lee, had been involved in cocaine trafficking since at least 2006 (¶¶ 6, 9). According to CI statements, Johnson operated a restaurant called "Best Fish House," which he used as a cover for his cocaine operations (¶ 7, 14--18). Specifically, one CI indicated that in 2006, he made two large cocaine purchases from Johnson via one of his associates (¶ 10--12). Another CI involved in those transactions corroborated the story and provided additional information linking Johnson to cocaine trafficking during this period (¶ 13).

On April 1, 2008, DEA Agents and Deputy U.S. Marshal Thomas Woods met with a third CI, who stated that he or she had been employed by Johnson at the Best Fish House for 2 to 3 years and provided a detailed account of Johnson's and Lee's recent and ongoing cocaine transactions there (¶¶ 14--18). In particular, the CI stated that a Hispanic man driving a tractor trailer periodically delivered cocaine to the restaurant (¶ 16). The CI also noted the presence of various items associated with drug trafficking-two safes in the restaurant, high tech video security equipment, and large sums of cash handled by Johnson and Lee (¶¶ 14--18).

On April 2, 2008, officers interviewed a fourth CI who had "provided reliable and corroborated information to [Deputy Marshal] Woods on numerous prior occasions. Information from [the CI] has lead (sic) to numerous prior arrests by federal authorities" (¶ 20). This CI stated that over the previous 2 years, he or she purchased cocaine from Lee (¶ 20). Usually, these transaction took place at the Best Fish House (¶ 20).

The CI also stated that he or she made other purchases directly from Johnson (¶ 21). The CI claimed that in the week prior to April 2, 2008, the CI purchased multi-ounce quantities from Johnson on four separate occasions (¶ 21). All four of these purchases were reportedly made at 5706 Westmoreland (¶ 21). The CI stated that Johnson made the transactions through the door of the residence at that address during the evening hours (¶ 21). The CI also said that on April 1, 2008, Johnson told the CI that he was expecting a large shipment of cocaine to arrive in the near future (¶ 21). Officers believed that this shipment arrived on April 3, when another CI informed them that the aforementioned truck driver had been at the restaurant that day and was still nearby (¶ 19).

On April 4, 2008, the affidavit states that DEA and FBI personnel began surveillance on 5706 Westmoreland and coordinated a controlled purchase of cocaine using the fourth CI (¶ 23). With currency provided by law enforcement, the CI was able to obtain several ounces of cocaine from the residence (¶ 23). Additionally, surveillance spotted a car at 5706 Westmoreland, which remained at the residence for only a short time before leaving (¶ 24). That vehicle was soon stopped, and a subsequent search of one of the occupants revealed 4.5 ounces of cocaine (¶ 24).

The affidavit also includes a lengthy discussion of Agent Manns's general knowledge and understanding of the methods of drug traffickers (¶¶ 26--43).

On April 4, 2008, Magistrate Judge Donald G. Wilkerson issued the warrant permitting the search of 5706 Westmoreland based on this affidavit. ...

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