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United States v. Martínez-Lantigua

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 23, 2017



          Víctor A. Ramos-Rodríguez, with whom Wilfredo Díaz-Narváez, were on brief, for appellant.

          Mainon A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

         Following a trial, Leoner Martínez-Lantigua ("Martínez") was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute at least 15 kilograms but less than 50 kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A), and 846. Martínez was sentenced to 121 months of imprisonment. Martínez appeals, contending that the evidence was insufficient for his conspiracy conviction and there were errors at his trial. Because the entire drug deal was captured on video and audio --which show Martínez inspecting the drugs with his own hands -- we find that there was sufficient evidence to convict Martínez. We also find Martínez's claims that there were errors at his trial to be without merit. We therefore affirm.

         I. Background

         On July 6, 2014, a confidential informant told Homeland Security Investigations ("HSI") agents that a money laundering and drug trafficking organization was seeking assistance to transport cocaine from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico. That same day, an HSI undercover agent (the "Agent"), acting as a facilitator, called the organization and coordinated a meeting to discuss the smuggling venture.

         On July 7, the Agent met with Oscar De la Cruz ("De la Cruz") and Pedro Wipp-Kelley ("Wipp-Kelley") in Piñones, Puerto

          Rico, to discuss the venture and agreed that, in exchange for transporting the narcotics, they would pay the Agent $1, 000 per kilogram of cocaine in transportation fees, plus $5, 000 in fuel and travel expenses. During a series of recorded calls and meetings, they ultimately agreed to have the Agent transport 48 kilograms of cocaine and provided him with a Blackberry and the phone number of Erasmo Martínez-Trinidad ("Martínez-Trinidad"), who had the narcotics in St. Thomas. The Agent travelled to St. Thomas and successfully arranged the delivery of the narcotics.

         The Agent called Wipp-Kelley on July 12 to arrange the location for the exchange. The exchange took place at the Martínez Nadal Train Station parking lot, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was recorded on video; accompanying audio was provided through a body wire that the Agent was wearing.

         The controlled delivery involved four cars. Wipp-Kelley messaged the Agent and informed him that Wipp-Kelley would be driving a grey Nissan, and that he would be with somebody (who was later identified as Carlos Carmona). Wipp-Kelley also informed the Agent that a second vehicle, a white Altima, would be involved in the transaction. It would later turn out that Martínez would be driving this Altima, with his friend Ramón Coplin in the passenger seat. Another undercover agent would drive a small SUV to the transaction with the Agent in the passenger seat. The sham cocaine would be located in a separate red undercover vehicle (the agents naturally did not bring the real cocaine to the transaction). The money would be put into the small SUV, and Martínez would drive away in the red undercover vehicle that contained the narcotics.

         The transaction followed this plan (except, of course, that the conspirators were arrested before they could drive away). The Agent got out of the SUV and approached Wipp-Kelley's vehicle, the grey Nissan. Wipp-Kelley told the Agent that the bag containing the $43, 000 was in the rear seat of this grey Nissan. After the Agent inspected the bag of money and confirmed its contents, Carmona placed it in the small SUV. The Agent then approached the white Altima. Martínez was in the driver's seat, and Coplin in the passenger seat. The Agent asked Martínez whether he was going to drive the red vehicle and Martínez nodded his head. The Agent asked Martínez whether anyone was going "to check that, " referring to the sham narcotics in the vehicle. Martínez replied "[o]h, okay." Both Martínez and Coplin approached the Agent's vehicle to inspect the bags and the Agent opened the trunk. The Agent opened the bag containing the bricks of sham cocaine to show them to Martínez. Martínez looked into the trunk, reached into the trunk, and touched the sham narcotics. After Martínez had completed this inspection of the sham cocaine, the Agent closed the trunk of the vehicle, which signaled federal agents to arrest the conspirators.

         After the arrest, Martínez waived his Miranda rights at the police station and admitted that he was hired to move the vehicle containing the bags from Point A to Point B for $1, 000, and that he knew that he was to move ...

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