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United States v. Maldonado

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 21, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Jose Maldonado and Francisco Masias, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued April 4, 2018

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 10 CR 1068 - Rebecca R. Pallmeyer, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Bauer, Circuit Judge.

         Jose Maldonado and Francisco Masias (together, "the Defendants") were charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, amongst six other counts irrelevant to this appeal. During trial, the district court gave a multiple conspiracies jury instruction and refused to give a "meeting of the minds" instruction proposed by Masias. The jury convicted the Defendants on all counts, and they now appeal. They contend the government lacked sufficient evidence to prove conspiracy between them and Edwin Rodriguez, a cooperating defendant, and Masias contends separately that the district court erred by refusing to give a "meeting of the minds" jury instruction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On December 16, 2010, a grand jury returned a seven-count indictment charging the Defendants with conspiracy to possess more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); using the telephone to facilitate a narcotics offense, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b); and unlawful possession of firearms by a felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

         At trial, Rodriguez testified that beginning in spring 2009, he and Maldonado spent a considerable amount of time together. Maldonado taught him how to "rerock" cocaine, a process for diluting cocaine with additives to make it into a larger quantity for resale. This process allows a seller to turn a single kilogram of cocaine into as many as three kilograms. The two of them rerocked cocaine together several times with Maldonado fronting a portion of the drugs to Rodriguez for resale. (Fronting occurs when a seller supplies cocaine to a buyer on credit with an understanding the buyer will pay for the cocaine from further sales.) Maldonado stored cocaine and firearms at Rodriguez's residence, and on several occasions, Rodriguez accompanied Maldonado while he delivered cocaine to his customers. Rodriguez also testified that from late 2009 through early 2010, Masias was a supplier of cocaine to Maldonado, and often fronted this cocaine.

         The government presented additional evidence of specific drug deals involving the Defendants, largely through surveillance and intercepted phone calls.

         On January 11, 2010, the Defendants coordinated a drug deal with Teodoro Gorostieta, Masias' cousin and supplier. Gorostieta delivered the cocaine to Maldonado while Masias negotiated and coordinated the deal. After this transaction, the Defendants agreed to check the quality of the cocaine together and Maldonado agreed to buy a box of cocaine cutting agent for Masias.

         On January 13 and 14, 2010, Masias borrowed Maldonado's Cadillac, which had a "trap" compartment for drugs and drug proceeds, to deliver cocaine to a customer. During this time- frame, Masias purchased an Audi for half a kilogram of cocaine. After the exchange, Masias phoned Maldonado to tell him about the Audi and to ask his advice as to whether he made a good exchange. Despite having just purchased the Audi, Masias continued to use the Cadillac and allowed Maldonado to use his Lexus or Audi.

         On January 14, 2010, the Defendants coordinated the delivery of two kilograms of cocaine from Gorostieta to a customer. The Defendants argued over how they would divide their cut of the deal. During this argument, Masias told Maldonado to "be a good middleman … That way we don't have no incidents." Before the deal was complete, Maldonado called Rodriguez and suggested he rob Gorostieta of the money from the two kilograms and an additional kilogram of cocaine the supplier had in his car. However, after intercepting these calls, agents conducted a traffic stop of Gorostieta and seized the cocaine and cash to prevent Maldonado and Rodriguez from committing the robbery. Not knowing about the traffic stop and seizure, Maldonado and Rodriguez made several calls about surveilling the supplier. Rodriguez waited several hours in his car on the street where Maldonado believed Gorostieta lived, until Masias informed him of the arrest.

         On January 27, 2010, Maldonado sent Rodriguez to Masias' residence to pick up nine ounces of fronted cocaine. Masias gave Rodriguez a full kilogram that Maldonado and Rodriguez split for further distribution.

         On February 1, 2010, Masias informed Maldonado of 16 firearms he bought. Maldonado agreed to help sell them and drove to Masias' to pick them up. Upon arrival, Masias placed a large, weighted bag in Maldonado's car. Maldonado drove to Rodriguez's house and took the bag into his house. Rodriguez was subsequently seen placing a rifle bag in a U-Haul. Based on agents' suspicion from surveillance of Rodriguez placing what appeared to be the guns from Maldonado into the U- ...

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