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People v. Rojas

Court of Appeal of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

October 10, 2013

The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Juan ROJAS, Defendant-Appellee.

Page 568

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 569

Anita M. Alvarez, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Veronica Calderon Malavia, Carol L. Gaines, and Neangela L. Marshall, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Thomas M. Breen, Todd S. Pugh, and Jonathan M. Brayman, all of Breen Pugh & Associates, of Chicago, for appellee.

Justice LAVIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Epstein dissented, with opinion.

OPINION

LAVIN, Justice.

[376 Ill.Dec. 27] ¶ 1 Defendant Juan Rojas was charged by information with two counts of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. The trial court granted defendant's motion to quash the search warrant and suppress evidence. The State appeals, contending the trial court erred in finding the search warrant lacked probable cause to search defendant's residence, and that the trial court erred in failing to apply the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule when it suppressed the evidence against defendant.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Two complaints for search warrant were filed in this case. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agent Nicholas Loonan filed the first on October 16, 2009, and DEA Special Agent Thomas Asselborn filed the second on October 20, 2009. Both complaints were subscribed and sworn to before circuit court Judge Paul P. Biebel and are apparently identical except for the agent's listed years of experience. On October 20, 2009, Judge Biebel issued a single warrant to Agent Asselborn to search defendant and his residence at 745 Cromwell Avenue in Westchester, Cook County, Illinois, and to seize records or evidence relating to narcotics racketeering, money [376 Ill.Dec. 28]

Page 570

laundering, proceeds of illicit narcotics or trade, and criminal drug conspiracy. This included such things as books, ledgers, bank statements, photographs, income records, real estate contracts, etc. Although the parties have expressed some confusion as to which complaint to reference, we rely on the October 20 complaint sworn to by Agent Asselborn, as that is the complaint identified in the search warrant that ultimately issued.

¶ 4 Agent Asselborn prefaced the complaint by stating that he had been a DEA agent since 1998 and assigned to the money laundering group in Chicago since 2004. He had received training and participated in drug and money laundering investigations, as well as been involved in numerous search warrants resulting in the seizure of items from drug trafficking. In Asselborn's experience, large-scale narcotics traffickers almost always kept detailed records to track their drug transactions and large-sum money laundering, and they also used multiple locations to conduct their narcotics activities. Agent Asselborn concluded, " [s]uch records are often maintained under dominion and control of the narcotics traffickers, and as such, are often kept in their residences or other secure locations that cannot be easily identified by law enforcement."

¶ 5 The complaint in support of search warrant identified five alleged drug traffickers, including defendant and the alleged head of the organization, Felix Villasenor, with six of their residences or " stash houses" to be searched. Agent Asselborn explained that the search was part of " Operation Copperhead," an investigation initiated by DEA agents in Los Angeles and Chicago targeting the " Villasenor DTO," a nationwide drug trafficking organization that allegedly distributed narcotics and laundered money (although the complaint leaves DTO undefined, we reasonably presume it to mean " Drug Trafficking Organization" ). Asselborn stated that, to date, the California operation had resulted in the seizure of 37.5 kilograms of cocaine, heroin, $391,566, and the arrest of six individuals. Meanwhile, the Cook County operation had already resulted in the seizure of 31.5 kilograms of cocaine, about $100,000, and the arrest of four Villasenor DTO associates. The investigation used nonconsensual wiretaps of the telephones of Villasenor (also known as Chivo) and other Villasenor DTO members or associates. The applications for these wiretaps were incorporated in the complaint for search warrant.

¶ 6 Based on the evidence collected, investigators believed that Villasenor supplied heroin, cocaine, and marijuana for the Villasenor DTO in Chicago and that Villasenor obtained his narcotics from various sources, including defendant. Intercepted telephone calls also led agents to believe that defendant supplied cocaine to Villasenor, who then supplied cannabis and heroin to defendant. In the " summary of probable cause," the complaint listed the six addresses to be searched, and under each address, Agent Asselborn described the observation- and electronic-based surveillance that led officers to believe the individuals identified were committing drug crimes based out of those specific locations.

¶ 7 Relevant to this appeal, the complaint sought to search 6207 South Parkside, Chicago, an alleged stash house used to store narcotics and cash proceeds. Per the complaint, this house had been rented out by the owner (not defendant) to a person (also not defendant) who had previously been arrested for cocaine possession. In support of probable cause for that location, Agent Asselborn identified two intercepted telephone conversations during the evening of July 3, 2009, which led him to [376 Ill.Dec. 29]

Page 571

believe that defendant advised Villasenor to pick up money from the Parkside house, but defendant told Villasenor to do so without raising the suspicion of neighbors. Following this conversation, the complaint stated that officers actually observed Villasenor enter the porch, where he met defendant and then went inside the house. The complaint further stated that numerous other intercepted telephone calls " indicated" defendant supplied drugs to Villasenor and that defendant was also a customer of Villasenor's for drugs, and specifically alleged that officers believed the Parkside address was where defendant stored his drugs and drug proceeds.

¶ 8 The complaint also sought to search defendant's residence and the home believed to be owned by his parents, located at 745 Cromwell Avenue in Westchester, Cook County, Illinois. The wiretap conversations identified in support of probable cause were apparently from Villasenor's telephone. On July 3, 2009 at 4:23 p.m., Villasenor called defendant, and this conversation ensued:

" DEFENDANT: To see if you can come over here close to my house.
VILLASENOR: By where?
DEFENDANT: By Mannheim.
VILLASENOR: But how do I get there?
DEFENDANT: You know when you get off on the street that you take to get to Noa-Noa nightclub?
VILLASENOR: I don't know where that is. Mannheim and what?
DEFENDANT: Take 55 to La Grange. Take La Grange north until you get to Cermak."

In the complaint, Asselborn stated that based on his training and experience, this call revealed defendant had advised Villasenor to meet him by his residence, located around Cermak Road and Mannheim. Maps indicate that the intersection of Cermak and Mannheim is a little over a mile away from defendant's Cromwell address.

¶ 9 In support of probable cause to search the 745 Cromwell address, Asselborn also identified two additional conversations between defendant and Villasenor. On the afternoon of July 22, 2009, defendant called Villasenor:

" VILLASENOR: [Laughs] What's up?
DEFENDANT: Nothing. Have they given you the ...

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