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United States v. Asad

September 3, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JALAL NIMER ASAD, MOHAMED REBHI QATTOUM, IMAD RIBHI ABDALLAH, NADER JAMIL QATOUM, REBHI A. QATTOUM, RAEDA A. KATTOM, AND NUHA IMAD ABDALLAH, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This case is before the court for ruling on Motions to Suppress (#48, #76) filed by Defendants Imad Ribhi Abdallah and Mohamed Rebhi Qattoum. This court has carefully considered the evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing and the arguments presented by the parties. Following this court's careful and thorough review, the Motions to Suppress (#48, #76) are DENIED.

BACKGROUND

On October 7, 2009, Defendants Jalal Nimer Asad, Mohamed Rebhi Qattoum, Imad Ribhi Abdallah, Nader Jamil Qatoum, Rebhi A. Qattoum, Raeda A. Kattom, and Nuha Imad Abdallah, were charged in a 28-count Second Superseding Indictment (#52). The seven Defendants were charged with various offenses including: conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate the tax laws, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; tax evasion, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7201; signing false corporation income tax returns, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1); mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341; witness tampering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b); making false statements to obtain health care benefits, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1035(a); and making false statements to federal agents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a).

Defendant Imad Ribhi Abdallah (Abdallah) was charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of tax evasion, four counts of signing a false corporation tax return, six counts of mail fraud, one count of making false statements to obtain health care benefits, and two counts of making false statements to federal agents. Defendant Mohamed Rebhi Qattoum (Qattoum) was charged with one count of conspiracy, five counts of tax evasion, six counts of mail fraud, two counts of witness tampering and one count of making false statements to federal agents.

MOTIONS TO SUPPRESS

On September 9, 2009, Abdallah filed a Motion to Suppress Evidence and Quash Warrant (#48). On October 2, 2009, Abdallah filed a Memorandum (#51) in support of his Motion. In his Motion and Memorandum, Abdallah stated that he is "an owner/operator" of Price Rite #1 Food and Liquor Store (Price Rite) and has standing to challenge the search and seizure of documentary evidence from that location. Abdallah argued that the search warrant authorizing the search of Price Rite was unconstitutionally deficient because it authorized law enforcement personnel to conduct a general search of Price Rite. Abdallah contended that the search warrant was impermissibly overbroad because it should have instructed police officers to seize only those items associated with or indicating activity associated with the illegal possession of cannabis. Abdallah argued that all evidence and fruits of evidence obtained or secured as the result of the search should be suppressed because the search warrant failed to describe with particularity the items to be seized. Abdallah also argued that the search should not be upheld on a "good faith" basis because "law enforcement should not be able to benefit and capitalize by acting upon a general search warrant and seizing evidence wholly unrelated to this cannabis investigation."

On October 23, 2009, the Government filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion to Suppress Evidence and Quash Warrant (#59). The Government argued that the documents were properly seized and should not be suppressed. It argued that the search warrant established probable cause to believe that cannabis possession and distribution was taking place at Price Rite and the agents executed the warrant according to the terms of the warrant and complaint. The Government acknowledged that the warrant initially only mentioned evidence related to the offense of possession of cannabis. However, the Government pointed out that the warrant, supported by the information in the complaint, went on to permit the seizure of evidence related to drug trafficking. The Government argued that, since it logically follows that you must possess cannabis to traffic in it, evidence of trafficking is relevant to the possession offense. The Government also contended that Abdallah suffered no harm from any violation of the Fourth Amendment so that suppression would be a disproportionate penalty and further argued that the "good faith" exception applies in this case.

On December 31, 2009, Qattoum filed a Motion to Suppress (#76) and Memorandum in Support (#77). Qattoum argued that the search grossly exceeded the scope of the search warrant so that all evidence seized should be suppressed. He also argued that the warrant was "facially invalid" because it lacked probable cause as it failed to include evidence of "drug trafficking by any employee or agent of Price Rite."

On January 29, 2010, the Government filed its Memorandum in Opposition to Qattoum's Motion to Suppress (#81). The Government first argued that Qattoum, an employee of Price Rite, did not establish that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy both in the documents seized and the premises searched. The Government noted that Qattoum does not claim any ownership interest in Price Rite and Abdallah claims to be the only owner of the business. The Government also noted that, although some of the documents seized belonged to Qattoum, they were not kept private but were found in an unlocked desk in an office/storage area behind the counter in the store where they were available to Abdallah and all other store employees. The Government then argued that, even considering Qattoum's arguments, there is no basis for suppressing the evidence seized during the search of Price Rite. The Government argued that the search warrant was facially valid, as the complaint contained evidence of two drug trafficking transactions that occurred at Price Rite. The Government also argued that the documents were properly seized pursuant to the search warrant.

EVIDENTIARY HEARING

An evidentiary hearing was held on June 11, 2010. The Government called Trevor Stalets, a detective with the City of Decatur Police Department, as its only witness. Stalets testified that, during his 20 years with the police department, he investigated drug cases for approximately 81/2 years. Stalets testified that he has been assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI for approximately seven years.

Stalets testified that, in April 2004, he was involved in a drug-related investigation concerning Price Rite. Stalets testified that he spoke to one source "who indicated that they were present at the store and witnessed an individual conduct two separate transactions within a short period of time where they were distributing small amounts of cannabis." Stalets testified that he spoke to another informant who stated that the informant had been in the store a short time prior to providing the information and was told that Qattoum, an employee at Price Rite, "would find quantities of cannabis either inside the store or out in the parking lot that he would keep for his personal use."

Stalets testified that, based upon this information, he believed there was probable cause to search Price Rite and prepared a complaint for search warrant and also prepared the search warrant itself. These documents were introduced into evidence at the hearing. In the complaint for search warrant, which he signed under oath, Stalets stated:

2. Your affiant states between the dates of April 27, 2004 and April 30, 2004 he had an occasion to speak with Jane Doe (Assumed Name) concerning a drug investigation. Your affiant states Doe knew the affiant to be a police officer. Your affiant states Doe indicated she had an occasion to be inside the business of Price Rite #1 Food & Liquor, 1260 North Jasper Street, Decatur, Illinois between the dates of April 27, 2004 and April 30, 2004. Your affiant states Doe indicated during this time, she observed an unknown subject do two separate transactions with two other subjects. Doe explained these transactions were for the sell/purchase of quantities of cannabis. Doe states she knows what cannabis looks and smells like from her previous life experience.

Stalets stated that "Doe is considered a reliable source, who has previously provided law enforcement officials with information on at least five or more different occasions" and that "this information has lead to the convictions of individuals in both state and federal court, and the seizure of illegal drugs, money and weapons."

Stalets also stated in the affidavit:

4. Your affiant states Pat Smith (Assumed Name) has provided affiant with information concerning the employees at Price Rite #1 Food & Liquor, 1260 North Jasper Street, Decatur, Illinois. Your affiant states between April 25, 2004 and April 30, 2004 he met with Smith, who knows the affiant to be a police officer. Your affiant states during this meeting, Smith indicated she knows from frequenting this business, that one of the [employees] is a[] user of cannabis. Your affiant states Smith indicated she knows from talking with this employee, who is known by the name of Mohammed Qattoum, that he will find cannabis or other illegal drugs inside the store or in the parking lot of the store and keep them [for] his own personal use. Your affiant states Smith also indicated she knows from being in the store approximately two or three months ago that a handgun is kept at the store for protection.

Stalets stated in the complaint that "Smith is also considered a reliable source who has previously provided information to law enforcement officials that has been corroborated through other sources and other investigative techniques." Stalets stated that the information provided by Smith "has yet to lead to any arrest or convictions in a criminal court, but the investigation is still on-going."

Stalets testified that he contacted one of the assistant state's attorneys in the Macon County State's Attorney's Office and presented the complaint and search warrant he prepared for review. The assistant state's attorney approved the paperwork. On April 30, 2004, Stalets presented the complaint and search warrant to Macon County Judge Thomas Little. Judge Little reviewed the documents prepared by Stalets and then issued the search warrant for the search of Price Rite. The search warrant authorized a search of Price Rite for evidence of the offense of unlawful possession of cannabis and specifically authorized the seizure of the following items:

1. Any and all Cannabis.

2. Any and all drug paraphernalia associated with drug use or drug trafficking, including firearms and ammunition.

3. Any United States currency associated with drug trafficking.

4. Any and all documents associated with drug trafficking, including but not limited to bank records, electronic records contained in various types of electronic equipment or devices, such as computers, ...


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