Argued March 5, 2014
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 11-CR-30046-02-MJR -- Michael J. Reagan, Judge.
For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Randy G. Massey, Office of The United States Attorney, Fairview Heights, IL.
For Saul Ruelas-Valdovinos, Defendant - Appellant: Frank J. Himel, Law Office of Frank J. Himel, Chicago, IL.
Before EASTERBROOK, MANION, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.
Hamilton, Circuit Judge
For nearly three years, appellant Saul
Ruelas-Valdovinos supplied most of the cocaine that his 22 co-conspirators sold
in southern Illinois and Missouri. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute
cocaine. When the district court calculated the sentencing guideline range, it
applied a three-level upward adjustment for Ruelas-Valdovinos's role as a
supervisor or manager in the conspiracy. See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(b).
Ruelas-Valdovinos challenges the adjustment on appeal, arguing that he supplied
cocaine but did not supervise or manage anyone. We affirm.
From 2008 to 2011, Ruelas-Valdovinos obtained cocaine imported from Mexico and delivered it to a house in Chicago owned by Ivan Vazquez-Gonzalez. At Vazquez-Gonzalez's direction, other co-conspirators would pick up the cocaine, drive it south, sell it, and return to Chicago with the proceeds to pay Ruelas-Valdovinos. In 2010 Vazquez-Gonzalez prepared to go to Mexico for six months. He instructed Luis Hernandez-Barahono, a co-conspirator who primarily transported and distributed the cocaine, to work directly with Ruelas-Valdovinos.
Around that time law enforcement acted on a tip and stopped Hernandez-Barahono and another co-conspirator for a supposed traffic violation. The officers searched the vehicle and seized $205,000 in cash. Two later traffic stops also involving Hernandez-Barahono--one in July, the other in September--yielded $85,000 and $91,000. Hernandez-Barahono reported what happened to both Ruelas-Valdovinos and Vazquez-Gonzalez.
Ruelas-Valdovinos, however, suspected that the reported seizures were a ruse hatched by Hernandez-Barahono and Vazquez-Gonzalez to keep cash that he should have received. He questioned both of them in phone conversations. He
threatened--if they were stealing from him--to kill them, to " close down the company there," or to replace some co-conspirators. Despite his suspicions, though, Ruelas-Valdovinos gave Vazquez-Gonzalez the money he needed to return to the United States in November 2010.
A grand jury in the Southern District of Illinois returned a 28-count indictment against 23 co-conspirators, all of whom were arrested in 2011. Ruelas-Valdovinos pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine and to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. See 21 U.S.C. § § 846, 841(a)(1). The presentence report recommended a three-level upward adjustment to the Sentencing Guideline calculation on the ground that Ruelas-Valdovinos was a supervisor or manager. See U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(b). Ruelas-Valdovinos objected, both in writing and at the sentencing hearing, that he was just a cocaine supplier who reported to his own supplier and did not supervise or ...