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United States v. Gonzales

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

March 12, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
DARREN GONZALES, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT No. 1:17-CR-00082-ABJ-1 FOR THE DISTRICT OF WYOMING

          William D. Lunn, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Eric J. Heimann, Assistant United States Attorney (Mark A. Klaassen, United States Attorney, with him on the briefs), District of Wyoming, Cheyenne, Wyoming, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before MATHESON, MURPHY, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.

          MURPHY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Darren Michael Gonzales owned and operated Concrete Specialists, Inc. in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As a side business, he sold cocaine and methamphetamine. Gonzales used his personal and business bank accounts to launder the proceeds of his drug sales. After extensive investigations by state and federal law enforcement, a federal grand jury charged Gonzales with committing a multitude of drug and financial crimes. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to ten of the fifty-four counts set out in the indictment, specifically including seven counts of concealment money laundering. See 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i); see also United States v. Majors, 196 F.3d 1206, 1211 (11th Cir. 1999) (noting that § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) is "referred to as the 'concealment' . . . provision of the money laundering statute."). On appeal, Gonzales asserts, for the first time, that the guilty pleas underlying two of his money laundering convictions, Counts 50 and 52, are not supported by a sufficient factual basis. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(3). This court rejects Gonzales's arguments at the first step of plain-error review.[1]See United States v. Carillo, 860 F.3d 1293, 1300 (10th Cir. 2017) (holding that to satisfy the plain error standard, the appellant must, as the first step in a four-step journey, demonstrate the district court committed an error). That is, we conclude the district court did not err in finding that Gonzales's guilty pleas to Counts 50 and 52 were supported by a sufficient factual basis. The conduct Gonzales admitted as part of his plea agreement and at the plea colloquy establish the existence of every element of a violation of § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) as to both relevant counts. Thus, exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms the district court's judgment of conviction as to Counts 50 and 52.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Gonzales asserts his concealment money laundering convictions for Counts 50 and 52 are not, in violation of the dictates of Rule 11(b)(3), supported by a sufficient factual basis. "This court reviews alleged violations of Rule 11(b) that were not objected to in the district court under the exacting plain error standard." Carillo, 860 F.3d at 1300. To satisfy that exacting standard, Gonzales must show "(1) an error; (2) the error is plain or obvious; (3) the error affects the appellant's substantial rights (i.e., the error was prejudicial and affected the outcome of the proceedings); and (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings." Id. Gonzales's appeal can be easily resolved at the first step of plain error review because his guilty pleas are supported by an adequate factual basis.

         B. Discussion

         "Before entering judgment on a guilty plea, the court must determine that there is a factual basis for the plea." Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(3). "To determine whether a factual basis exists for the defendant's plea, the district court must compare the conduct admitted or conceded by the defendant with the elements of the charged offense to ensure the admissions are factually sufficient to constitute the charged crime." Carillo, 860 F.3d at 1305. The statutory provision criminalizing concealment money laundering provides, in relevant part, as follows:

Whoever, knowing that the property involved in a financial transaction represents the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, conducts or attempts to conduct such a financial transaction which in fact involves the proceeds of specified unlawful activity . . . knowing that the transaction is designed in whole or in part . . . to conceal or disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership, or the control of the proceeds of specified unlawful activity . . . shall be sentenced to a fine of not more than $500, 000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater, or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both.

18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). Section 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) contains the following four elements: (1) defendant "engaged in a financial transaction"; (2) defendant knew "the property involved in that transaction represented the proceeds of his unlawful activities"; (3) "the property involved was in fact the proceeds of that criminal enterprise"; and (4) defendant knew "the transaction was designed in whole or in part to conceal or disguise the nature, the location, the source, the ownership or the control of the proceeds of the specified unlawful activities." United States v. Garcia-Emanuel, 14 F.3d 1469, 1473 (10th Cir. 1994) ...


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