FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Richard G. Stearns, U.S. District Judge]
Jonathan A. Cox, with whom Felicia H. Ellsworth and Wilmer,
Cutler, Pickering, Hale, and Dorr LLP were on brief, for
J. Cloherty, with whom Collora LLP was on brief, for
William A. Glaser, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal
Division, United States Department of Justice, with whom
Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, Sung-Hee Suh,
Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Carmen M. Ortiz, United
States Attorney, and Christopher J. Pohl, Assistant United
States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.
Barron, Circuit Judge, Souter, Associate Justice,
and Selya, Circuit Judge.
BARRON, Circuit Judge.
consolidated appeals involve a number of challenges that Tony
Bedini and Iskender Kapllani bring to their convictions and
sentences for conspiracy to distribute cocaine under 21
U.S.C. § 846. Together, Bedini and Kapllani contend,
among other things, that their convictions cannot stand due
to the unfair prejudice that they suffered from being charged
with participating in a single drug conspiracy but then
jointly tried based on evidence that at most sufficed to show
their participation in what were actually two separate drug
conspiracies. Because we reject this challenge to their
convictions, along with the other challenges that Bedini and
Kapllani each bring to both their convictions and their
sentences, we affirm the judgments below.
2012, Bedini and Kapllani were charged in the United States
District Court for the District of Massachusetts with
conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to
distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine in violation of
21 U.S.C. § 846. Six other codefendants were also
charged in that indictment for the same crime, in consequence
of their alleged participation in the same conspiracy. The
six other codefendants -- Elton Ceku, Igli Leka, Armand Mara,
Bryant Mendoza, Carlos Manuel Tejeda, and Arben Teta -- all
pleaded guilty. Bedini and Kapllani did not. And, following
an eight-day, joint jury trial in the District of
Massachusetts, they were both convicted under § 846.
was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 135 months, to be
followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Kapllani
was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 188 months, to be
followed by a five-year term of supervised release. Bedini
and Kapllani each then appealed their conviction and
sentence, and we consolidated their cases on appeal.
and Kapllani each make the same primary challenge to their
convictions, and it concerns the sufficiency of the evidence.
Bedini and Kapllani contend that, notwithstanding the
characterization of the drug conspiracy charged in the
indictment as a single one that stretched from Boston to the
West Coast, the evidence at trial sufficed to support, at
most, a finding of two distinct drug conspiracies, with
Bedini a participant in one, Kapllani a participant in the
other, and neither a participant in both.
first of the supposedly distinct drug conspiracies, which we
will call the Boston-based one, "involv[ed] the various
individuals who were affiliated with the Arbri Café in
Roslindale, " a Boston neighborhood. This group included
Kapllani as well as the following of his co-defendants: Ceku,
Leka, Mendoza, and Tejeda. The second of the supposedly
distinct drug conspiracies, which we will call the West
Coast-based one, operated out of California and Las Vegas and
involved Bedini and the remaining two co-defendants, Mara and
and Kapllani further contend that they were unfairly
prejudiced by the claimed variance from the indictment's
charging of a single conspiracy to what turned out to be the
proof at trial of, at most, the two separate, and
geographically disparate, drug conspiracies just described.
The claimed prejudice rests on a theory of evidentiary
spillover, which gives rise to the concern about "the
transference of guilt to an individual defendant involved in
one conspiracy from evidence incriminating defendants in a
conspiracy in which the particular defendant was not
involved." United States v. Sutherland, 929
F.2d 765, 773 (1st Cir. 1991) (citation omitted).
evidentiary-spillover-based challenge cannot succeed,
however, if its premise is mistaken. And so we start --and,
as it turns out, end -- by addressing the threshold issue of
whether the evidence at trial sufficed to support a finding
of the single conspiracy charged in the indictment.
question whether a given body of evidence is indicative of a
single conspiracy, multiple conspiracies, or no conspiracy at
all is ordinarily a matter of fact; a jury's
determination in that regard is subject to review only for
evidentiary sufficiency." United States v.
Wihbey, 75 F.3d 761, 774 (1st Cir. 1996) (citing
United States v. David, 940 F.2d 722, 732 (1st Cir.
1991)). "Although conflicting inferences may arise, so
long as the evidence is adequate to permit a reasonable trier
of fact to have found a single conspiracy beyond a reasonable
doubt, the jury's finding will not be disturbed on
appeal." United States v. Mangual-Santiago, 562
F.3d 411, 421 (1st Cir. 2009).
each Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close
of evidence, we review their sufficiency claims de
novo." United States v. Dellosantos, 649 F.3d
109, 115 (1st Cir. 2011). In evaluating the evidence to
determine whether the evidence suffices to show a single
conspiracy, we look to the totality of the evidence.
Id. at 117. We have found three factors to be
helpful in guiding this inquiry: "(1) the existence of a
common goal [among the participants], (2) interdependence
among participants, and (3) overlap among the
participants." Id. (citation omitted). We
consider what the record shows regarding each of these
factors in turn, mindful that "none of [the three
factors], standing alone, i[s] necessarily
determinative." See United States v.
Sanchez-Badillo, 540 F.3d 24, 29 (1st Cir. 2008).
repeatedly held that "selling cocaine for profit"
or "furthering the distribution of cocaine" may
constitute a common goal among individuals who have been
charged with participating in a single drug conspiracy.
Mangual-Santiago, 562 F.3d at 421 (citation
omitted). Moreover, there was evidence in the record here to
support a finding that, in 2010 and 2011, the West
Coast-based operation repeatedly sold wholesale quantities of
cocaine to participants in the Boston-based operation with
the understanding that the cocaine would then be re-sold. And
we have held that an inference of a common goal to profit
from drug sales is supportable where, as here, the drugs are
repeatedly bought by one party from another in
"wholesale quantities obviously purchased for further
sale." United States v. Ortiz-Islas, 829 F.3d
19, 25 (1st Cir. 2016).
and Kapllani nevertheless contend that the evidence supports
at most the conclusion that the relationship between the
Boston- and West Coast-based operations was -- though
longstanding and repetitive -- merely an arm's-length
buyer-seller relationship, albeit one between a wholesaler
and a retailer. And Bedini and Kapllani further contend that,
in consequence, the two operations cannot be said to have
shared a common goal, even if each operation independently
did seek to profit from the sale of cocaine. See United
States v. Brown, 726 F.3d 993, 1001 (7th Cir. 2013)
(explaining that "buyer-seller relationships . . . do
not qualify as conspiracies, " because "[p]eople in
a buyer-seller relationship have not agreed to advance
further distribution of drugs, " whereas "people in
conspiracies have" (emphasis omitted)).
have recently found that "more than a mere buyer-seller
relationship" existed when a party sold wholesale
quantities of cocaine and "was even willing to front
cocaine, " on "the understanding that [the buyer]
would pay in the course of a subsequent transaction."
Ortiz-Islas, 829 F.3d at 25-26. Fronting wholesale
quantities of cocaine in this manner was, we explained,
"an act of trust that assumed an ongoing enterprise with
a standing objective." Id. at 25.
the record supportably shows that fronting occurred, albeit
infrequently. Specifically, there is evidence in the record
that on at least two occasions the West Coast-based operation
sold substantial quantities of cocaine to the Boston-based
operation on credit, rather than for payment at the time of
sale. In one such instance, Bedini and Mara, operating out of
the West Coast, accepted a small payment from Kapllani,
operating out of Boston, in exchange for Kapllani receiving
one kilogram of cocaine. Kapllani promised to pay the balance
of the cost for the kilogram of cocaine one week later. In
another instance, Bedini gave Kapllani one kilogram of
cocaine in return for Kapllani's promise to make the
payment an hour later. And, in addition, the evidence
supportably shows that Kapllani trusted the West Coast-based
operation enough to, on one occasion, prepay for cocaine,
with a $50, 000 prepayment given to Teta (who transported
cocaine for Bedini and Mara).
contends that our analysis in Ortiz-Islas
"depended not only on the defendant's fronting of
large quantities of cocaine to a buyer, but also on the
conspirators' extensive mutual reliance on another party
to facilitate transactions and provide protection." And
Kapllani argues that the "few instances where some level
of credit may have been provided are insufficient to
establish a single conspiracy." In further support of
this contention, Bedini and Kapllani emphasize aspects of the
record that they contend support the conclusion that
"the California defendants were indifferent to the
profitability of the operation in the Arbri Café,
" "had little interest in what the Massachusetts