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United States v. Dowl

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 19, 2017


         At a session of said Court, held in the U.S. Courthouse, Detroit, Michigan on January 19, 2017

          PRESENT: Honorable Gerald E. Rosen United States District Judge


          Gerald E. Rosen United States District Judge

         Defendants Sidney Dowl and Angela Avery are charged in a 23-count indictment with conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) and the U.S. Treasury by preparing and filing false individual income tax returns to collect tax refund payments (Count 1), filing false claims (Counts 2-15), and aggravated identity theft (Counts 16-23).[1] The charges against Defendants arise from evidence discovered on October 17, 2011, during a search of a van owned by Defendant Avery after it was impounded following the arrest of Defendant Dowl, who was driving the van at the time. Defendant Avery now moves to suppress the evidence found during the search. Defendant Dowl has joined in the motion. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be denied.


         In the afternoon of October 17, 2011, Southfield Police Officer Tracey Krettlin stopped a 1999 Chevrolet Express van on 8 Mile Road near Beech Plaza for having illegally-tinted windows and excessive radio noise. The van was registered to Defendant Angela Avery who was not present in the van at the time of the stop. The van was being driven by Defendant Sidney Dowl. Defendant Dowl was accompanied by his aunt, Katina Dowl.

         Upon being stopped, Dowl provided his name to Officer Krettlin and admitted that he did not have a driver's license because it had been suspended. Dowl also disclosed that he was on probation for receiving and concealing stolen catalytic converters.[2]

         Officer Krettlin thereafter conducted a LEIN check on Dowl, which verified that Dowl lacked a driver's license, and that he had been convicted 11 times for driving on a suspended license. The LEIN check also revealed that Dowl was wanted for multiple traffic arrest warrants from Detroit, Allen Park, Garden City, and Warren; some of the warrants involved a pre-set bail figure, including $3, 000 for Allen Park, $500 for Garden City, $5, 000 for Warren (for a marijuana case) and $3, 500 for Warren for a receiving and concealing case.

         Following the LEIN check, Dowl was placed under arrest for driving on a suspended license and was issued a citation for the illegal dark-tinted windows. Dowl was then transported to the Southfield Police Department. He arrived at the police department between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. A lieutenant thereafter set Dowl's bail at $100. In the meantime, Ross Towing was called to tow the van away.

         Before the van was towed, pursuant to Southfield Police Department policy, Officer Krettlin performed an inventory search of the interior.[3] In conducting the search, Officer Krettlin observed a number of miscellaneous papers in the van between the front seats. Krettlin noted the miscellaneous papers on his inventory list, but as the papers did not have any readily apparent value, he did not seize them. Ross towing subsequently removed the van to its lot in Southfield.

         Around the time when Dowl was being booked at SPD headquarters, Front Desk Officer Anthony McNeil received multiple telephone calls about Avery's van and how it could be reclaimed. McNeil reported these inquiries to Officer Patricia Meyer and also to Watch Commander Lieutenant John Fisher. Fisher found the phone calls to be a red flag perhaps indicating that contraband was located inside the van.

         Between 10:00 and 10:30 p.m. that evening, Officer McNeil received a telephone call about Dowl, who was still in jail at the police station. The call had been transferred from the Michigan State Police to the Southfield Police Department, and then to Officer McNeil on the front desk. The female caller said she had information about Dowl but she wanted to remain anonymous. She said that she was a friend of Dowl and his girlfriend, Angela Avery, and that she knew that Dowl had been arrested and was in custody at the Southfield jail.

         The caller then reported that approximately two weeks earlier, she had overheard Dowl and Avery discussing “bogus IRS checks” that were inside Avery's Chevy van, which by then had been impounded by Officer Krettlin.

         Officer McNeil reported the call to Watch Commander Fisher. He also discussed the call with Officer Meyer.

         Meanwhile, at about 10:30 p.m., Angela Avery arrived at the Southfield Police Department lobby, and attempted to post bond for one of Dowl's warrants from Warren.[4]Having just learned that Avery was a suspect in the newly-reported allegation, Officer Meyer went out to the lobby to speak with her, in an attempt to gain information. Meyer knew from her police work that often personal identification information is stolen from medical offices. Therefore, as a ruse, Meyer claimed to recognize Avery and asked if she worked in a doctor's office. Avery told Meyer that she did not work at a medical office; she worked at Quicken Loans. Believing that Avery had just admitted working in an environment where personal identification information was commonly available -- which might facilitate identity theft -- Meyer ended the conversation and went back into the station area and reported what she had learned to Lieutenant Fisher and Officer McNeil.

         Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant Fisher dispatched Specialist Katie Schneider to go to Ross Towing to check the van for the reported items. Around 11:00 p.m., Schneider searched the van where, in a shoebox on the floor of the van between the driver's and passenger's seats, she found a calendar, a notebook and other papers with handwritten names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers. [See Schneider report at Government Ex. 7.] In the glove box of the van, she found a vehicle's owner manual, and inside the cover of the manual she found three U.S. Treasury checks written to three different people. Id. One check was made payable to Willie Williams at 20567 Rosemont Avenue, Detroit (Dowl's address); another was payable to Tyrone Allen at 20575 Rosemont Avenue, Detroit (Angela Avery's address); and the third one was payable to Davina Lloyd at 8411 Stahelin, Detroit (Katina Dowl's address). The checks had been endorsed for deposit into Avery's bank account. Officer Schneider seized these materials around 11:00 p.m. on October 17th. See id.

         The next day, October 18, 2011, at around 11:30 a.m., Avery reclaimed the van after paying the requisite fines and costs.

         Through the evidence found in the van, the IRS's Criminal Investigation Division was later able to connect Dowl and Avery to a scheme to file false tax returns.[5] This indictment ensued.

         Defendants now move to suppress the evidence found in Defendant Avery's van claiming that the search of the van was done without a warrant and without the probable cause required to support a ...

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