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United States v. Moreno

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 30, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MARIA MORENO

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge

         On April 21, 2016, a jury convicted Defendant Maria Moreno (“Defendant”) of one count of conspiring with others to possess with the intent to distribute and to distribute narcotics, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and two counts of knowingly using a telephone in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b). Currently before the Court is Defendant's Rule 29 Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and/or Rule 33 Motion for a New Trial [342]. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion [342] is denied. Counsel are requested to jointly contact the Courtroom Deputy by 2/4/2017 to schedule a sentencing date.

         I. Background

         The Government indicted Defendant and five co-defendants-Miguel Guzman, Alfredo Torres, Sergio Zacahua, Acasio Sanchez, and Fabian Foster-for their alleged participation in a conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine in the Chicago, Illinois and Detroit, Michigan areas. According to the Government, Guzman was the head of the drug trafficking organization (the “Guzman DTO”) and Defendant received narcotics from Chicago-based members of the Guzman DTO to further distribute in the Detroit area. The Government filed a thirteen-count indictment against the six co-defendants. Defendant is named in three of the counts. Count One charged Defendant with conspiring with others to possess with the intent to distribute and to distribute narcotics, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. Counts Nine and Eleven charged Defendant with knowingly using a telephone in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b).

         Defendant's co-defendants all entered guilty pleas. Defendant elected to be tried by a jury. The Government's evidence consisted primarily of recorded telephone conversations between Defendant and her alleged co-conspirators in which Defendant arranged to receive narcotics and warned of law enforcement actions; testimony of a cooperating alleged co-conspirator (Torres) describing the ongoing relationship between Defendant and the Guzman DTO; and law enforcement surveillance of Defendant attempting to pick up four kilograms of heroin from one of the Guzman DTO's couriers (Foster) in July 2013.

         More specifically, Torres testified that he worked for the Guzman DTO for approximately fifteen years, along with Sanchez, Zacahua, and Foster. Torres met Defendant in approximately mid-2012 at Guzman's audio shop. Guzman introduced Torres to Defendant and instructed him to deliver heroin to her on an ongoing basis. Torres and Defendant exchanged telephone numbers. Within three days, Torres delivered between two and four kilograms of heroin to Defendant at a Chicago restaurant.

         Torres testified that after this initial delivery, he or another Guzman DTO worker delivered two to four kilograms of heroin to Defendant approximately once or twice a month. For most of their relationship, Defendant would drive to Chicago and Torres or another Guzman DTO worker would take Defendant's vehicle, retrieve money that Defendant left in the vehicle, and load the vehicle with heroin. Torres also testified that, on at least one occasion, Guzman told him to give Defendant the kilograms of heroin and she could pay at a later date. According to Torres, Defendant paid approximately $200, 000 for four kilograms of heroin. FBI Special Agent Christopher Labno testified that one kilogram of heroin in equivalent to around 4, 000 individual doses and that, at the time of Defendant's arrest, the wholesale price for four kilograms of heroin was approximately $200, 000.

         The Government presented evidence that on May 27, 2013, Torres met Defendant at a Shell gas station in Chicago. The meeting was observed and photographed by law enforcement surveillance agents. Torres testified that he and Defendant met at the gas station so Torres could give Defendant keys to a car with a trap compartment in it. Torres gave Defendant the keys to the trap vehicle and she drove away. Law enforcement officers later stopped Defendant in Indiana and discovered that she was not the registered owner of the vehicle and could not explain her relationship to the registered owner. The officers found the empty concealed trap compartment, which contained a receipt from a glass company with the name “Alfred Torres” on it. The receipt was for fixing a broken window in the vehicle. Later that evening, in two telephone conversations that law enforcement recorded, Defendant told Torres to stop using the phones, that she had been pulled over by police, and that the trap vehicle had been confiscated because it was not in her name.

         The Government's evidence showed that after Defendant was stopped by police, she stopped coming to Chicago to pick up heroin and instead had a courier from the Guzman DTO deliver it to her in the Detroit area. The final delivery occurred on July 16, 2013. On that date, law enforcement officers in Chicago arrested Foster shortly after he obtained four kilograms of heroin from Torres and other DTO workers. In Foster's car, the officers found a note with Defendant's phone number on it. Officers drove Foster's vehicle to a motel outside of Detroit where, according to Foster, he had been instructed to park the vehicle. One officer called Defendant on a phone that they had seized from Foster and told her where the vehicle was parked. Surveillance observed Defendant drive into the hotel parking lot and enter the motel with her fifteen year old niece. Defendant sent a text message to Foster's confiscated phone, stating that she did not have a key to Foster's vehicle. The officer texted Defendant back on Foster's phone that there was an extra key under the mat in the vehicle. Defendant exited the hotel, walked to Foster's vehicle, and entered the vehicle.

         At this point, officers arrested Defendant. They found a spare key to Torres' car in Defendant's vehicle. They found no significant sums of cash on Defendant's person, but three phones. One phone was a personal phone; the second phone was the one that Defendant had used to communicate with Torres and Foster; and the third phone had a text message from earlier in the day which read, “Down here wit [with] my money.” During closing argument, the Government asked the jury to infer that Defendant had a buyer in the area who would give her money for the heroin, which she then planned to give to Foster.

         At trial the Government also introduced a receipt in Foster's name, dated June 13, 2013, for a room at the same hotel at which Defendant was arrested.

         Following the close of the Government's case, defense counsel moved for entry of a directed verdict of acquittal. See [316]. The Court took the motion under advisement. See id. The Court also admonished Defendant of her right to testify and her right not to testify at trial. See [320]. Defendant chose not to testify and the defense rested its case. See id. Following the parties' closing statements, the Court instructed the jury. As is relevant here, the Court provided the jury with the following instructions, which Defendant proposed and to which the Government agreed:

To establish that a buyer knowingly became a member of a conspiracy with a seller to possess heroin with intent to distribute, the government must prove that the buyer and seller had the joint criminal objective of distributing heroin to others. The government must prove that, in addition to agreeing to buy heroin, the defendant agreed to participate with the seller in an arrangement involving mutual dependence, cooperation or assistance in distributing heroin. Such an agreement may be proved by evidence showing sales on credit, in which the buyer is permitted to pay for all or part of the heroin after the heroin has been re-sold, couple with other evidence showing mutual cooperation and an ongoing arrangement between the defendant and the seller.

         Following deliberations, the jury found Defendant guilty of conspiring with others to possess with the intent to distribute and to distribute narcotics, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and two counts of knowingly using a telephone in ...


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