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United States v. Camacho-Santiago

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

March 15, 2017

CARLOS R. CAMACHO-SANTIAGO, Defendant, Appellee.


          Raul S. Mariani Franco for appellant.

          Thomas F. Klumper, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Senior Appellate Counsel, United States Attorney's Office, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Thompson, Dyk, [*] and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted Carlos Camacho-Santiago ("Camacho") of two counts of drug trafficking based on his involvement in a criminal conspiracy to move cocaine in luggage stowed on commercial airline flights from Puerto Rico to the mainland United States. On appeal, Camacho raises an array of challenges to his conviction based on the contention that he was not a member of the conspiracy proven at trial. He also argues that his conviction depended upon the erroneous admission of hearsay evidence and that the district court failed to do enough to ensure the jury could fairly render a verdict. Finding the evidence sufficient to sustain his conviction as a member of the conspiracy charged in the indictment and proven at trial, and finding no other reversible error, we affirm.

         I. Background

         In May 2012, a grand jury indicted Camacho and nineteen others on two criminal counts arising out of a drug trafficking conspiracy. We described the charged conspiracy in our recent opinion vacating the conviction of another individual, Nelson Pereira. See United States v. Pereira, 848 F.3d 17, 19-20 (1st Cir. 2017). In brief, the indictment alleged that Wilfredo Rodríguez-Rosado ("Rodríguez")--not indicted here--created and ran an operation using baggage handlers to smuggle cocaine on American Airlines flights from Puerto Rico to the mainland over roughly a ten-year period beginning in 1999. The indictment charged Camacho with two counts of joining and aiding and abetting this conspiracy.

         Rodríguez did not oversee the distribution process in the continental United States, nor was he the original source of the cocaine that made its way onto American Airlines flights. The cocaine was furnished by a variety of suppliers who brought their cocaine supply to Rodríguez's people and worked with them to get cocaine packaged and delivered to American Airlines employees at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan. One such supplier was Carlos Arce Lopez ("Arce"), who first connected with Rodríguez through Camacho.

         Gerardo Torres Rodríguez ("Torres"), one of the government's key witnesses against Camacho, testified that Rodríguez offered to forgive a debt Camacho owed him if Camacho brought him a new supplier, and that Camacho accepted that offer by bringing Arce to Rodríguez. According to Torres, on at least three occasions, Camacho traveled with him to Newark to test the route for Arce, pick up suitcases of drugs, and collect money to return to Puerto Rico. Arnaldo Sierra-Menendez ("Sierra") also testified that Camacho worked for Arce and that on one occasion when some cocaine went missing, Camacho and Rodríguez confronted Sierra about his involvement in the drugs' disappearance. Sierra testified that Camacho pointed a gun at him while asking what happened to the cocaine and threatening to kill him. The only other witness who offered first-hand testimony as to Camacho's involvement in the conspiracy was Javier Olmo-Rivera ("Olmo"), a member of Rodríguez's organization who testified that every supplier had an intermediary who delivered the cocaine to the airport and facilitated the trafficking group's connection to the supplier, and that Camacho was the person who delivered Arce's cocaine.

         Rodríguez did not testify, but many other members of the conspiracy did. Torres and Sierra both testified as to statements Rodríguez made concerning the conspiracy and Camacho's alleged role in it, testimony the court allowed as relating out-of-court statements of a coconspirator. The jury convicted Camacho on both counts, and the judge sentenced him to 360 months' imprisonment. This timely appeal followed.

         II. Discussion

         Camacho begins with two arguments that train on the nature of the conspiracy proven at trial. He contends that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of the one conspiracy charged. Alternatively, he contends that the jury should have been told more expressly that proof of multiple conspiracies rather than the one conspiracy alleged in the indictment was not grounds for conviction. Third, Camacho challenges the admission of what he says is hearsay evidence. Fourth, he requests a new trial because he claims the jury was twice contaminated. Fifth, he avers that the court read testimony back to the jury during deliberations without taking adequate steps to ensure the jury did not place undue weight on what it heard.[1] We address these arguments in their logical order.

         A. One ...

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