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United States v. Munoz

July 9, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ELIAS MUNOZ AND ELIAS MARQUEZ, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:07-CR-00224-Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, Judge.

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

ARGUED APRIL 9, 2010

Before POSNER, FLAUM, and WILLIAMS,Circuit Judges.

This is the consolidated appeal of two defendants who were convicted of participating in large document forgery operation known as the Leija-Sanchez Organization (the "Organization"). This group provided false green cards, driver's licenses, and social security numbers to illegal immigrants. Elias Marquez was accused of being an "office manager" of sorts for the Organization and producing fraudulent documents himself. Elias Munoz was accused of being a photographer for the Organization. Both defendants pleaded guilty and challenge only their sentences. Marquez, who received an above-guidelines sentence of 60 months of imprisonment, argues that he should have received a two-level reduction for a minor role in the offense and a three-level reduction for acceptance of responsibility. He also challenges the substantive reasonableness of his sentence. Munoz, who received an above-guidelines sentence of 48 months of imprisonment, challenges the substantive reasonableness of his sentence and the district court's order that he use his earnings from the inmate financial responsibility program to pay his fine. We affirm both sentences, but modify Munoz's judgment to make clear that participation in the inmate financial responsibility program is voluntary.

I. Background

The Leija-Sanchez Organization was a large conspiracy dealing in fraudulent documents that operated for over fifteen years in the "Little Village" area of Chicago, along 26th Street between Albany and St. Louis. The Organization produced and sold fraudulent documents including resident alien cards, social security cards, driver's licenses, and state identification cards. The Organization also smuggled illegal aliens to Chicago to serve as street vendors known as "miqueros." Scattered throughout the parking lot at the discount mall at Albany and 26th Street, these miqueros would sell false identification documents to passing pedestrians and motorists.

When a miquero found a paying customer, he took that customer to Munoz's photo shop. Munoz owned and operated the photo shop since 1994. Munoz would provide the customer with a blank form printed in both English and Spanish on which the miquero would record the name, address, date of birth, and other identifying information the customer wished to have appear on the fraudulent document. Munoz then created identification photographs of the customer with a background suitable for the type of identification document the customer was purchasing. The government estimates the revenue derived by Munoz from these photographs-which sold for $10 to $20 each--as at least $364,000 per year.

Once a miquero accumulated enough orders from customers, he would use a "runner" to send the orders to the facility-the "office"-where the false documents were made. From at least April 2006, Marquez worked in "the office," where he manufactured false documents, resolved payment disputes, and directed the miquero's daily operations.*fn1 At trial, the government introduced recorded telephone conversations of Marquez engaging in these activities; for example, inquiring about the status of a miquero who had been arrested by the police, directing a different miquero to get current on money he owed the Organization, and explaining which miqueros would work which shifts on a given day.

Munoz, Marquez, and 21 other individuals were indicted on July 3, 2007. On July 8, 2008, Munoz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to produce false identification and immigration documents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. On September 10, 2008, the government filed a superseding information against Marquez, charging him with one count of conspiracy to unlawfully produce identification and immigration documents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, and one count of producing identification documents in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028(a)(1) and (2). Marquez pleaded guilty to the superseding information the next day.

Following a January 6, 2009, sentencing hearing, the district court sentenced Munoz to 48 months of imprisonment, to be followed by two years of supervised release, and imposed a $500 fine. Marquez's sentencing hearing was held on April 29, 2009; the district court sentenced him to two 60-month terms of imprisonment, to be served concurrently, followed by three years of supervised release, and imposed a fine of $1,000.

II. Analysis

A. Marquez

We begin with the issues presented by Marquez. Marquez first argues that the district court erred in denying him a three-level reduction for a mitigating role in the offense. We review a district court's interpretation and application of the sentencing guidelines de novo and its fact-finding for clear error. See United States v. Haynes, 582 F.3d 686, 708 (7th Cir. 2009). Because it rests on a finding of fact by the district court, we review the district court's denial of a mitigating role reduction for clear error, and will reverse only if our review of the evidence leaves us "with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Id. at 709 (quoting United States v. Panaigua-Verdugo, 537 F.3d 722, 724 (7th Cir. 2008)).

The sentencing guidelines provide a detailed system for weighing a conspirator's role in the offense. If a defendant was a minimal participant, he is entitled to receive a four-level decrease. If he was a minor participant, he is entitled to a two-level decrease. For those whose role fell between minimal and minor ...


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