14 F.3d 95 (1st Cir. 1994), 92-1849, United States v. Torres-Maldonado

Docket Nº:92-1849 through 92-1852.
Citation:14 F.3d 95
Party Name:UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. Catalino TORRES-MALDONADO and Marilyn Gotay-Colon, Defendants, Appellants, UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. Hector SANTIAGO-ALICEA, Defendant, Appellant, UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. Teddy Leon AYALA, Defendant, Appellant, UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. Oscar DIAZ CRUZ, Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:January 20, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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14 F.3d 95 (1st Cir. 1994)



Catalino TORRES-MALDONADO and Marilyn Gotay-Colon,

Defendants, Appellants,



Hector SANTIAGO-ALICEA, Defendant, Appellant,



Teddy Leon AYALA, Defendant, Appellant,



Oscar DIAZ CRUZ, Defendant, Appellant.

Nos. 92-1849 through 92-1852.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 20, 1994

Heard Sept. 8, 1993.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Jose A. Fuentes Agostini with whom Dominguez & Totti, Hato Rey, PR, was on brief, for appellant Torres-Maldonada and Gotay-Colon.

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Ramon Garcia Garcia, Santurce, PR, on brief, for appellant Santiago-Alicea.

Carlos R. Noriega, Hato Rey, PR, on brief, for appellant Ayala.

Harry R. Segarra, Santurce, PR, on brief, for appellant Diaz Cruz.

Kathleen A. Felton, Washington, DC, with whom Charles E. Fitzwilliam, U.S. Atty., Warren Vazquez, Asst. U.S. Atty., Hato Rey, PR, and Nina Goodman, Dept. of Justice, Washington, DC, were on brief, for appellee.

Before STAHL, Circuit Judge, COFFIN, Senior Circuit Judge, and DiCLERICO, [*] District Judge.

STAHL, Circuit Judge.

Defendants-appellants challenge various aspects of their drug and firearms convictions, arguing, inter alia, that insufficient evidence supports their convictions, and that their motions for severance and for suppression of evidence were improperly denied. We reverse the firearms convictions of two defendants and affirm all other convictions.



For purposes of defendants' challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, we begin by reciting the facts in the light most favorable to the government. United States v. Mena-Robles, 4 F.3d 1026, 1029 (1st Cir.1993).

Spanning a two-week period in late February and early March of 1991, a group of individuals, including defendants, occupied Rooms 310, 311 and 327 of the Carib Inn Hotel in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. Two of the rooms were registered to false names.

Soon, the activities of the occupants of all three rooms attracted the attention of hotel employees. The hotel's chief of security observed "continual" visits to occupants of all three rooms made by young people who often drove luxury cars and stayed for periods of about ten minutes. In a hotel of 225 guest rooms, the group in the three rooms received 90% of all phone calls made to the hotel. Moreover, the group paid their hotel bills in cash, using bundles of small denominations wrapped in rubber bands. On a few occasions, the occupants paid for all three of the rooms together in amounts totaling approximately $300 to $400. In addition, a "floor supervisor" in charge of maid service on defendants' floor at the hotel saw the occupants of all three rooms passing frequently among the three rooms.

On March 6, 1991, the same floor supervisor observed two revolvers on top of a bureau in Room 327. She informed both the hotel's chief of security and local police, who, in turn, contacted agents of the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Later that day, ATF agents and local police officers began surveillance at the Carib Inn Hotel.

At approximately 11:00 p.m. on March 6, 1991 the surveilling agents observed defendants Hector Santiago-Alicea (Santiago-Alicea), Teddy Leon Ayala (Leon), Oscar Diaz Cruz (Diaz) and Frankie Nieves-Burgos (Nieves-Burgos) 1 with an unidentified man in the hotel lobby. Santiago-Alicea was wearing a bulletproof jacket, and the agents noticed a bulge under the jacket which appeared to be a gun. The group proceeded from the lobby to the hotel parking lot where the unidentified individual, after opening the trunk of a car, opened a plastic bag inside the trunk and counted unidentified items inside the bag. He handed the bag to Santiago-Alicea, who then showed the contents to Leon, who gave a facial sign of approval and an affirmative nod of his head.

Later that evening, a second unidentified man arrived at the hotel, made a call on the hotel's "house phone," and was met shortly thereafter in the lobby by Nieves-Burgos and another defendant, Pedro Luis Ramirez-Rivera (Ramirez-Rivera). 2 After a brief conversation, Nieves-Burgos and Ramirez- Rivera

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went back upstairs. Shortly thereafter they reappeared with Santiago-Alicea, who then exchanged packages with the unidentified man.

On March 7, 1991, the following day, Santiago-Alicea was observed waiting in the hotel parking lot, looking in all directions. A car pulled up to him and, after a brief conversation, Santiago-Alicea handed a small paper bag to its driver, received money in exchange, counted the money, put it in his pocket and returned to the hotel.

On the basis of the foregoing events, ATF and local law enforcement officials obtained a search warrant for the three hotel rooms. On that same afternoon of March 7, 1991, they executed the warrant. Upon entering Room 311, they found defendant Catalino Torres-Maldonado (Torres-Maldonado) seated on the floor talking on the phone, and his wife, defendant Marilyn Gotay-Colon (Gotay-Colon), seated on the sofa. Nieves-Burgos and Ramirez-Rivera were stretched out on separate beds in the room, clad only in underpants. Santiago-Alicea was seated on the end of one of the beds.

Upon searching the room, the agents found that Gotay-Colon's purse contained cocaine in a plastic bag which was marked with a picture of a unicorn. Her purse also held approximately $400 in cash in a bundle secured by a rubber band. In a zippered, opaque tote bag on the sofa on which Gotay-Colon was seated, the agents found $2000 in cash in a bundle, again secured by a rubber band, and a loaded semiautomatic pistol.

On a night table in the room, the agents found a plastic bag containing cocaine, approximately $1500 in cash, brown paper bags, and a homemade pipe used for smoking drugs. In the room's closet was the bulletproof jacket seen on Santiago-Alicea the night before. Under the bed, the agents found empty plastic bags labeled with a picture of a unicorn, along with plastic straw-and-spoon type implements typical of the sort used to cut and package drugs for re-sale. The agents also found razor blades, ordinary playing cards, and a stapler, all of which can be used to package drugs. They also found beepers and cellular telephones. Finally, the agents discovered keys to a gray Buick, which would later be searched by the agents.

Rooms 310 and 327, though unoccupied at the time of the search, also contained drugs and drug-related items. Room 310 contained fifty-five packets of cocaine, again marked with a unicorn, which were found in a brown paper bag hidden in a roll-away bed or sofabed. There was also a small amount of narcotics in an ashtray and a pipe used for smoking drugs. The search of Room 327 turned up a pillowcase hidden above a "dropped ceiling" in the bathroom. It contained sixteen brown paper bags, each of which, in turn, held 100 small packets marked with the unicorn symbol and filled with cocaine. Under a sofa, the agents found a bullet that fit the semiautomatic pistol found in Room 311.

Later that day, Leon and Diaz, who had been present for one of the transactions the night before, but who had not been present during the search of Room 311, arrived at the hotel. Leon exclaimed, "Oh, my god, they busted my people." 3 The agents asked Leon and Diaz if they knew the occupants of Room 311. They replied in the affirmative. Leon was carrying over $6700 in cash and a key to Room 310. Diaz had over $1400 in cash and a hotel receipt for Room 327.

The agents subsequently searched two cars in the hotel parking lot. In the first car, a green Ford LTD, they found a loaded .357 six-shot revolver, along with a photograph of Nieves-Burgos and a parking receipt with Nieves-Burgos' fingerprint on it. The second car searched was the gray Buick, keys to which had been found in the search of Room 311. In the Buick, the agents found a loaded nine millimeter pistol, with additional ammunition and one "spent" or fired bullet cartridge. Though the Buick was not registered in Santiago-Alicea's name, the registration to the car was found in Santiago-Alicea's wallet.

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Defendants were tried together. Torres-Maldonado, Gotay-Colon, Santiago-Alicea, Leon, and Diaz were all convicted of conspiring to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, and of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. See 21 U.S.C. Secs. 841(a)(1), 846. 4 Gotay-Colon was also convicted of possession of cocaine based on the amount found in her purse. See 21 U.S.C. Sec. 844(a). 5 In addition, Torres-Maldonado, Gotay-Colon and Santiago-Alicea were convicted of using a firearm during and in...

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