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United States v. Soto

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 11, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MANUEL ANTONIO SOTO (13-2300); HECTOR SANTANA (13-2389); CHRISTOPHER ESPINOZA (13-2510); JUAN RAMON RESPARDO-RAMIREZ (13-2582); Defendants-Appellants

Argued November 19, 2014.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:10-cr-20635-15--David M. Lawson, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Mark J. Kriger, LARENE & KRIGER P.L.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant in 13-2300.

Kevin M. Schad, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant in 13-2389.

Joseph A. Niskar, Royal Oak, Michigan, for Appellant in 13-2510.

Sanford A. Schulman, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant in 13-2582.

Mark Chasteen, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Mark J. Kriger, N.C. Deday LaRene, LARENE & KRIGER P.L.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant in 13-2300.

Zenaida R. Lockard, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant in 13-2389.

Joseph A. Niskar, Royal Oak, Michigan, for Appellant in 13-2510.

Sanford A. Schulman, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant in 13-2582.

Mark Chasteen, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: NORRIS, MOORE, and GIBBONS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

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KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

This case involves the drug-trafficking, kidnapping, and firearms convictions of Defendants-Appellants Hector Santana, Manuel Antonio Soto, Christopher Espinoza, and Juan Ramon Respardo-Ramirez. A grand jury indicted them on two conspiracies and two firearms charges: conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute and to distribute it, 21 U.S.C. § § 846, 841(a)(1) & 841(b)(1)(A)(ii)(II) (2012) (Count 1); conspiracy to kidnap, 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1), (c) (Count 5); possession of a firearm in furtherance of and during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (2012) (Count 7); and possession of a firearm in furtherance of and during and in relation to a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (Count 8). The indictment permitted the government to try the appellants as aiders and abettors for Counts 7 and 8. In addition, the grand jury indicted Santana, Soto, and Espinoza as principals and as aiders and abettors for possession of 500 or more grams of cocaine with the intent to distribute it in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 841(a)(1) & 841(b)(1)(B)(ii)(II) (2012), 18 U.S.C. § 2 (2012) (Count 2). Count 6 charged all four with kidnapping as principals and as aiders and abettors in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 1201, 2.

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The grand jury indicted only Soto for obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1)--(2)(A) (Count 9).

At the conclusion of a trial, a jury convicted the defendants-appellants on all counts with two exceptions: the jury acquitted Espinoza of Count 1, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and Respardo-Ramirez of Count 5, conspiracy to kidnap. The four defendants appeal their convictions, and Soto and Santana also appeal their sentences. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we AFFIRM the judgments.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Evidence at Trial

At trial, in addition to various law-enforcement officers, three witnesses who had originally been charged as co-conspirators testified: Erik Freeman, Vanessa Gudino, and Jose Bravo-Garcia. Bravo-Garcia sold cocaine in Chicago and received cocaine deliveries from Santana, who worked for Soto. Respardo-Ramirez also delivered cocaine to Bravo-Garcia on Soto's behalf approximately twenty times. Bravo-Garcia and Santana sold Soto's cocaine to two Detroit-based sellers, Jose and Francisco Enriquez-Enriquez, who resold the cocaine to Erik Freeman, another seller in Detroit.

One of these drug transactions from Soto to all of these middlemen went awry when another middleman, El Cartero, disappeared without paying Soto for a ten-kilogram cocaine delivery to the Enriquez-Enriquez brothers. In response to this failed delivery, Soto told Garcia-Bravo, who had brokered the deal, to find the Enriquez-Enriquez brothers or El Cartero. Santana was able to help: he knew where the Enriquez-Enriquez brothers lived. In October 2009, Garcia-Bravo, Santana, Gudino, Anthony Ramirez, and Christopher Espinoza hatched a plan to go to Detroit to look for the Enriquez-Enriquez brothers in order to collect the money or to bring them back to Chicago. To accomplish that goal, they took two or three guns.

The plan was to pretend to meet with Jose Enriquez-Enriquez (" Enriquez-Enriquez" ) for a drug transfer and then use the guns to scare him. When Enriquez-Enriquez arrived at the parking lot, Espinoza, Santana, and Anthony Ramirez confronted Enriquez-Enriquez and his cousin, Victor, and forced them into the van at gunpoint. The group tied Enriquez-Enriquez's and Victor's hands with zip ties and duct tape and returned to Chicago, where they brought them to a garage. Soto and Respardo-Ramirez met the group in the garage with guns. Soto questioned Enriquez-Enriquez and Victor about the missing money. After an hour of questioning, the kidnapping participants left the garage, but Respardo-Ramirez remained to guard Enriquez-Enriquez and Victor. While Respardo-Ramirez was guarding, he placed his gun on a table in the garage.

The next day, Gudino, Bravo-Garcia, Anthony Ramirez, Espinoza, Santana, and Enriquez-Enriquez returned to Detroit. The plan was to lure Freeman to meet with them by offering to sell three kilos of cocaine. Once in the meeting, the group planned to force Freeman to deliver Soto's money. The group brought the same two or three guns used during the first Detroit trip. Bravo-Garcia confirmed that Respardo-Ramirez did not touch, use, or own the firearms used during the trip to Detroit.

Once in Detroit, the group met with Freeman, who insisted on cooking the cocaine to test its purity one kilo at a time. Freeman rejected the first two kilos, but liked the third. Next, Freeman took the group to a second house, where he kept his money. Bravo-Garcia, Espinoza, Ramirez,

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and Santana followed Freeman into the house, guns in tow. Bravo-Garcia, Espinoza, and Ramirez pointed their guns at Freeman, and Freeman and Enriquez-Enriquez fell to the floor. After handing his gun to Santana, Bravo-Garcia took Freeman's money to the car. By the time Bravo-Garcia had returned to the house, Santana, Ramirez, and Espinoza had tied Freeman to a pole in the basement of the house, where they left him.

Before driving back to Chicago, the group picked up a second car. On the return drive to Chicago, police officers stopped and searched the cars and found the three kilos of cocaine, currency, and the three handguns in the car in which Gudino, Bravo-Garcia, and Ramirez were traveling.

B. Post-Trial Motions for Acquittal or New Trial

After the trial, all defendants-appellants filed motions for judgment of acquittal or a new trial. Santana argued that the evidence was insufficient for a rational jury to find him guilty of conspiracy to kidnap, kidnapping, and brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, namely the kidnapping. Espinoza contended that there was insufficient evidence for a rational jury to reach the following conclusions: that he specifically intended to deliver cocaine; that he joined the conspiracy to kidnap; that he participated in the kidnapping; and that he possessed a firearm. Soto retained new counsel and argued that he was entitled to a judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence of a specific intent to deliver cocaine. Soto also asserted that he was entitled to a new trial because his original trial counsel was ineffective because he did not move to exclude evidence seized from 4309 W. 77th Place and 5318 S. Mozart Street in Chicago, Illinois. Respardo-Ramirez joined Soto's motion for a new trial on the basis that the court should have excluded the evidence seized from the two locations. Respardo-Ramirez filed an additional motion for acquittal on the basis that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of the conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine, kidnapping, and possession of a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Respardo-Ramirez focused on the sufficiency of the evidence showing that he joined the conspiracy, that the kidnapping victims were taken across state lines forcibly, and that he owned or possessed the firearms listed in the indictment.

On August 12, 2013, the district court issued an opinion and order granting in part and denying in part the defendants' motions for judgment of acquittal, rejecting most of the defendants' claims. R. 515 (Dist. Ct. Op. and Order) (Page ID #3444--79). There was one exception: the district court granted Respardo-Ramirez's motion for a judgment of acquittal as to Count 8, possessing and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. R. 515 at 22--23, 36 (Page ID #3465--66, 3479).

C. Sentencing

Before the sentencing hearing, Santana filed a sentencing memorandum and objections to the Presentence Report (" PSR" ). At the sentencing hearing, Santana's trial counsel objected to the classification of Counts 7 and 8 as mandatory consecutive sentences. Soto also challenged the probation office's determination that his convictions for Counts 7 and 8 must run consecutively. The district court rejected Soto's and Santana's Sixth Amendment challenges.

Santana received a 120-month sentence for Counts 1, 2, 5, and 6 to be served concurrently; an eighty-four-month sentence for Count 7 to be served consecutively

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to Counts 1, 2, 5, and 6; and also a 300-month sentence for Count 8 to be served consecutively to Count 7. Soto's sentence is 516 months of imprisonment: 132 months for Counts 1, 2, 5, 6, and 9 to run concurrently; eighty-four months for Count 7 to run consecutively to Counts 1, 2, 5, 6, and 9; and ...


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