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United States v. Ruelas-Valdovinos

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

April 7, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SAUL RUELAS-VALDOVINOS, Defendant-Appellant

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.

OPINION

Page 942

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

Page 943

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 ...


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