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United States v. Quintero-Jimenez

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 29, 2019




         This matter came before the court based on defendant Sean Tennison's Motion for Pre-Trial James Hearing (Doc. 518). Defendant Eduardo Garcia-Patino joined the request made by that motion (Doc. 528). The court granted both motions on July 25, 2019. Doc. 538. Also, the Trial Management Order required the government to disclose those statements that it plans to offer into evidence under Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(E). Doc. 539 at 2. The government complied with the deadline, disclosing the information on the due date. See Doc. 584. Then, the court conducted a James hearing on October 23, 2019. After reviewing the evidence proffered at the hearing, the court, consistent with Fed.R.Evid. 104(a), finds that the government has carried part of its burden under Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(E). Namely, it has established that a conspiracy existed and that defendants Luis Quintero-Jimenez, Eduardo Garcia-Patino, and Sean Tennison were members of it.

         The court is mindful that it must consider and decide whether certain prerequisites exist before allowing a jury to hear out-of-court statements offered under Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(E). “There must be evidence that there was a conspiracy involving the declarant [of the out-of-court statements to be offered] and the nonoffering part[ies], and that the statement was made ‘during the course of and in furtherance of the conspiracy.'” Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171, 175 (1987) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(E)). These determinations are preliminary ones and, under Fed.R.Evid. 104(a), responsibility for deciding them rests with the court. The preponderance of the evidence standard applies to these determinations. See Bourjaily, 483 U.S. at 176.

         Our Circuit has outlined two alternatives a district court may use to resolve these preliminary questions. First, it may conduct a James hearing. See United States v. Gonzalez-Montoya, 161 F.3d 643, 649 (10th Cir. 1998). In a James hearing, the court, outside the jury's presence, hears evidence and decides whether the predicate conspiracy existed. See, e.g., United States v. Owens, 70 F.3d 1118, 1123 (10th Cir. 1995) (discussing United States v. James, 590 F.2d 575 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 917 (1979)). Or, second, and alternatively, the district court may admit the out-of-court statements provisionally, but “‘with the caveat that . . . the party offering [it] must prove the existence of the predicate conspiracy through trial testimony or other evidence.'” Gonzalez-Montoya, 161 F.3d at 649 (quoting Owens, 70 F.3d at 1123 (alternation in original)).

         The Circuit has expressed a strong preference for the first approach and so, here, the court required two things of the government. First, it required the government to disclose specific facts its evidence will utilize at trial to prove the existence of a conspiracy. Doc. 539 at 2. The government addressed this requirement with testimony from Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Brandon Burkhart and provided the court with various witness proffers, transcripts of recorded telephone calls, and text messages. The court now has heard that testimony and reviewed this evidence. Second, the court required the government to disclose all co-conspirator statements it plans to offer under Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(E). Id. The government also complied with this requirement. Specifically, it filed a Notice of Proposed Conspirator Statements (Doc. 584).

         The court now has considered the evidence germane to the first step of this process. That is, the court has heard the agent's summary testimony of the evidence the government will adduce at trial to prove a conspiracy and defendants' participation in it. The court now can rule that the government, consistent with its burden under Bourjaily and Rule 104(a), has shown by a preponderance of evidence that a conspiracy existed, and each of the three remaining defendants participated in it. The rest of this Order outlines the basis for the court's conclusions.

         I. Legal Standard

         The court measures the sufficiency of the government's showings by the well-established definition of an illegal conspiracy:

To prove a conspiracy, the government must demonstrate: “(1) that two or more persons agreed to violate the law, (2) that the defendant knew at least the essential objectives of the conspiracy, (3) that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily became a part of it, and (4) that the alleged coconspirators were interdependent.”

United States v. Caldwell, 589 F.3d 1323, 1328 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Sells, 477 F.3d 1226, 1235 (10th Cir. 2007)). “[A] focal point of the [conspiracy] analysis is whether the alleged coconspirators' conduct exhibited interdependence.” United States v. Edwards, 69 F.3d 419, 432 (10th Cir. 1995). Interdependence exists where coconspirators “inten[d] to act together for their shared mutual benefit within the scope of the conspiracy charged.” United States v. Evans, 970 F.2d 663, 671 (10th Cir. 1992) (emphasis in original).

         For obvious reasons, proving a conspiracy does not require evidence that the participants explicitly agreed to an illegal bargain in a fully integrated, memorialized meeting of the minds. “Circumstantial evidence alone is often sufficient to demonstrate interdependence; indeed, it is often the only evidence available to the government.” Caldwell, 589 F.3d at 1329 (citing United States v. Hutchinson, 573 F.3d 1011, 1035 (10th Cir. 2009)). Nor does this standard require proof of an extensive operating history. “[A] single act can be sufficient to demonstrate interdependence.” Id. (citing United States v. Hamilton, 587 F.3d 1199, 1208-09 (10th Cir. 2009) (determining that a single instance of traveling to collect another drug dealer's debts was sufficient to show defendant became part of a large and wide-reaching conspiracy)).

         II. Summary of the Evidence

         At the James hearing, the government presented testimony from Special Agent Brandon Burkhart, of the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) the lead case agent in the germane investigation. Special Agent Burkhart's testimony consisted of background information about the scope and mechanics of the investigation into the defendants' activities by the DEA. This investigation began in July 2016 and continued until August 2017. During the investigation, the DEA used confidential informants and undercover officers to complete controlled buys of methamphetamine from various defendants. Eventually, investigators applied for and received Title III wiretaps on eight telephones used by suspected members of the conspiracy.

         The investigation revealed an expansive drug trafficking organization (“DTO”) operating in the Kansas City metropolitan area. According to the government, the DTO's objective was to sell and distribute high purity methamphetamine for profit. The methamphetamine was supplied by sources in Mexico. Alleged co-conspirators played various roles in the DTO, such as supervisor, dispatcher, translator, transporter, local courier, buyer, and distributor. Transporters retrieved drugs from sources in Mexico and in the United States, transported it across several states to various points in the Midwest, including stash houses in Kansas City, Kansas. DTO members coordinated buys with local distributors. Local couriers transported orders to buyers after receiving instructions from DTO leaders. Investigators seized more than 20 kilograms of methamphetamine during the investigation.

         Special Agent Burkhart identified three categories of conspirators: (1) known and indicted conspirators, (2) known and unindicted conspirators, and (3) unknown and unindicted conspirators. His testimony summarized the involvement of each alleged co-conspirator, the role that person played in the conspiracy, and other pertinent information. The court summarizes his testimony below, grouping alleged co-conspirators by their role in the DTO.

         A. Organization Leadership

         Defendant Luis Quintero-Jimenez was identified as a leader-organizer of the DTO. Undercover investigators purchased drugs from him on several occasions. Mr. Quintero-Jimenez also coordinated buys with the help of defendant Cynthia Rodriguez.

         Defendant Juan Quinonez-Leon was identified as the local cell head or overall supervisor. Mr. Quinonez-Leon was responsible for collecting proceeds derived from drug transactions. Based on information gathered from co-conspirators, Special Agent Burkhart testified that he believed Mr. Quinonez-Leon had assumed leadership of the DTO after his brother-Javier-had returned to Mexico. The DTO's finances were under Mr. Quinonez-Leon's ...

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