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United States v. Gonsalves

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 15, 2019



          Hon. Patti B. Saris Chief United States District Judge

         Defendant Stanley Gonsalves was convicted at trial of a host of charges stemming from his operation of an oxycodone-trafficking ring on Cape Cod. He moves under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence on the basis that his trial and appellate attorneys rendered ineffective assistance of counsel. After review of the briefing and the record, the Court DENIES Gonsalves's motion (Docket No. 507).


         The Court assumes familiarity with the case from the First Circuit's opinion affirming Gonsalves's conviction and recounts below only the facts material to his motion to vacate. See United States v. Gonsalves, 859 F.3d 95 (1st Cir. 2017).

         Starting in 2009, Gonsalves began to purchase oxycodone pills in bulk from a Florida man named John Willis. Willis was Gonsalves's primary supplier. Gonsalves and Willis paid runners to carry money to Florida to buy pills from Willis. The runners, who included friends, family, girlfriends, and exes, transported at least one thousand pills per trip, though some carried many more. Willis hid the pills in vitamin bottles, which he doctored to look never-opened, and gave them to the runners to bring to Massachusetts. Gonsalves packaged the pills into packs of one hundred, which he sold to lower-level drug dealers. Gonsalves paid Willis between $14 and $17 per pill and resold them for between $19 and $21. Over the three years of the scheme, Gonsalves brought around 371, 327 oxycodone pills to Cape Cod.

         On November 1, 2012, after law enforcement busted his operation, Gonsalves was indicted for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute oxycodone in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 84 6. Two superseding indictments added charges for money laundering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h); concealment money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1); unlawful monetary transactions in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); and drug and money laundering forfeiture allegations under 21 U.S.C. § 853 and 18 U.S.C. § 982(a)(1).

         Gonsalves's trial lasted eighteen days with testimony from thirty-four witnesses. Two witnesses testified about his possession of a rifle. Mathew Hernon, the brother of an ex-girlfriend of Gonsalves named Alexa Doran, testified that, while he was playing video games at Gonsalves's house at the age of fifteen, Gonsalves took an AR-15 rifle out of a case from behind the couch, cocked it, and cleaned it. The weapon was not loaded. Gonsalves told Hernon the rifle was stolen from the police and he had it for protection because he thought someone was going to rob him. Hernon saw the firearm one more time a few weeks later.

         Doran, the ex-girlfriend, also testified that Gonsalves kept a rifle in a black case behind the couch at his home for a few weeks. She and Gonsalves were distributing pills out of and counting money in the house when the gun was present. Gonsalves told her he did not have any bullets for the rifle and he bought the firearm because it was cool. She never saw Gonsalves fire the rifle, but he talked about shooting a gun at a friend's house.

         At the end of trial, Gonsalves moved for a directed verdict. With respect to the § 924(c) charge, he argued that "a reasonable jury could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that [he] possessed guns no matter a real one in furtherance of a drug transaction." Dkt. No. 303. at 4. The Court denied the motion. On October 9, 2014, the jury convicted Gonsalves on all counts. For the § 924(c) conviction, the jury found that he possessed the rifle about which Hernon and Doran had testified in furtherance of his oxycodone-trafficking conspiracy.

         The jury then heard additional arguments and instructions on the forfeiture allegations. The following day, the jury found $23, 503 in cash, two cars, and a house subject to forfeiture. The jury also calculated $5, 074, 575 as the "total gross proceeds of the oxycodone conspiracy," $3, 552, 203 of which was "reasonably foreseeable to" Gonsalves. Dkt. No. 318 at 2-3.

         The Court sentenced Gonsalves on June 12, 2015. To determine the drug quantity for his base offense level under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1, the Court divided the gross proceeds the jury attributed to him at the forfeiture trial ($3, 552, 203) by $20, the average sales price per pill, and then added the number of pills that were seized (and thus could not have been forfeited). This calculation attributed 177, 610 pills to Gonsalves, which resulted in a base offense level of 36. The Court expressly rejected the Government's proposal to attribute 371, 327 pills to Gonsalves based on conservative calculations from the testimony of various runners and suppliers about how many pills they trafficked, although such a methodology would have led to the same base offense level. With enhancements for money laundering, possessing a dangerous weapon, serving as an organizer, and involving a minor in the crime, Gonsalves received a total offense level of 43 and a guidelines recommendation of life. Under the statute and guidelines, the § 924(c) conviction called for a minimum sentence of five years to run consecutively to the sentence imposed for the trafficking offenses.

         During the argument, the Court stated that Gonsalves was "going to get a non-Guideline sentence." Dkt. No. 476 at 24:5-6.

         Accordingly, the Court sentenced him to a term of twenty-five years of imprisonment:

Actually, the government stole my show a little bit because I did think 25 years was what was appropriate here and not 30. I think that's sufficient but not greater than necessary to serve the purposes of punishment - that is, deterrence -- the gravity of the offense, giving you a proportionate punishment to other people in similar situations in this conspiracy, and also essentially making sure that the ...

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