230 F.3d 113 (4th Cir. 2000), 96-4662, United States v. Angle

Docket Nº:96-4662 No. 96-4672 No. 99-4187.
Citation:230 F.3d 113
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. COREY ANGLE, Defendant-Appellant. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JAMES EDWARD PHIFER, a/k/a Rick Daye, Defendant-Appellant. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JAMES EDWARD PHIFER, a/k/a Rick Daye, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:October 12, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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230 F.3d 113 (4th Cir. 2000)



COREY ANGLE, Defendant-Appellant.



JAMES EDWARD PHIFER, a/k/a Rick Daye, Defendant-Appellant.



JAMES EDWARD PHIFER, a/k/a Rick Daye, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 96-4662 No. 96-4672 No. 99-4187.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

October 12, 2000

        Argued: October 29, 1999.

        Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Statesville.

        Richard L. Voorhees, District Judge. (CR-94-41-V)

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        COUNSEL ARGUED: James Frank Wyatt, III, Robert Adams Blake, Jr., LAW OFFICES OF JAMES F. WYATT, III, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant Phifer; Thomas Franklin Loflin, III, LOFLIN & LOFLIN, Durham, North Carolina, for Appellant Angle. Frank DeArmon Whitney, Assistant United States Attorney, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Mark T. Calloway, United States Attorney,Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         Before WIDENER and MURNAGHAN,[*] Circuit Judges, and James H. MICHAEL, Jr., Senior United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

        Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded by published opinion. Senior Judge Michael wrote the opinion, in which Judge Widener joined.

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        MICHAEL, Senior District Judge:

        On December 6, 1994, a federal grand jury in the Western District of North Carolina indicted defendant-appellant James Edward Phifer a/k/a Rick Daye ("Phifer") and defendant-appellant Corey Eugene Angle ("Angle"), with John Henry Angle, Smith L. Turner, and Robert Lee Smith on one count of conspiracy unlawfully to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. All five defendants were also indicted on one count of criminal forfeiture in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 853. In addition, the grand jury indicted Phifer on two counts of money laundering under 18 U.S.C. § 1956 and one count of money laundering forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. § 981. The government subsequently moved to supersede the indictment on July 12, 1995 to add an illegal gambling business count under 18 U.S.C. § 1955 and a firearms count against Phifer. Defendants Turner and Smith entered pleas of guilty to count one of the indictment.

        The jury trial of the three remaining defendants, Phifer, Angle, and John Henry Angle, began on October 23, 1995. After the government and the defense completed their cases, the district court ruled that the drug conspiracy count against all three defendants, as well as the two money laundering counts against Phifer, should go to the jury. The forfeiture matters, i.e. the count of criminal forfeiture as to all five defendants and the count of money laundering forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. § 981 against Phifer, were bifurcated to await the resolution of the remaining counts by trial. The jury found both Phifer and Angle guilty of the count of drug conspiracy, found Phifer guilty of both counts of money laundering, and acquitted John Henry Angle of the count of drug conspiracy. On August 19, 1996, the district court sentenced Phifer to 292 months in custody and Angle to 210 months. This court has jurisdiction to hear the appeal of this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. On appeal, the defendants make numerous challenges to their convictions and sentences. After carefully considering the record in this case, the briefs, and the parties' arguments, this court affirms the district court in part and vacates and remands in part, for the reasons set out below.


        A. THE TRIAL

        After seven days of testimony, a jury convicted Phifer and Angle of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute, and to distribute, cocaine. The jury also convicted Phifer of two counts of money laundering pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1956 and ordered the forfeiture of his residence for its use in facilitating drug trafficking.

         During the trial, eight eyewitness co-conspirators testified against Phifer: Larry Reginald Cartledge, Robert Lee Smith, J. Lee Sturgis, Robert "Snake" Chambers, Perry Jerome Knox, George Allen Scott Redman, Robert Lee Griffin, and Earl Leslie Gray. Five eyewitness co-conspirators testified against Angle: J. Lee Sturgis, Robert "Snake" Chambers, Robert Lee Griffin, Linda Peak Walker, and Earl Leslie Gray. In addition to the eyewitness testimony, numerous law enforcement officers testified about searches and undercover operations including: (1) the discovery of $14,000 in currency and an Uzi pistol in Phifer's bedroom in 1987, (2) the discovery of Phifer's palmprints on a container of cocaine in 1988, (3) a sting operation witnessed by an undercover agent in 1990 where Phifer sold cocaine to an informant, (4) the seizure of $8500 in currency and a .38 caliber pistol from Angle during a takedown and arrest on March 1, 1993, (5) a pen register and long distance phone calls in 1993-94, (6) tax information and employment security records showing that Phifer and Angle had insufficient legitimate or reported income to support their standard of living, (7) the discovery of marked drug money in Angle's bedroom dresser, and (8)

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the seizure of assault weapons, pistols, and scanners on December 14, 1994.

        The prosecution supported this testimony regarding the drug conspiracy with evidence of Phifer's laundering of his drug money into the purchase of two different vehicles in 1990, titling a red 1984 Corvette in his brother's name, titling a 1955 Chevy pickup truck in his mother's name, and switching the tags on the Chevy pickup truck.

        1. Cocaine Conspiracy Evidence

        Beginning as early as March of 1987 when law enforcement officers searched Phifer's bedroom, and continuing until the date of their arrest on December 14, 1994, Phifer and Angle were central players in a cocaine and crack conspiracy operating in both Iredell and Rowan counties in mid-western North Carolina, particularly in and around the city of Statesville and the town of Cleveland. Over the eight-year period, the conspiracy involved as many as a dozen different conspirators and as much as thirty kilograms of powder cocaine and three kilograms of crack. Local authorities profiled Phifer as a major cocaine conspirator sometime in 1987; authorities believed Angle entered the conspiracy as early as 1990.

        Without setting out that testimony witness by witness, consideration of the record reveals eyewitness testimony and corroborating evidence of actual drug transactions involving Phifer and Angle on various occasions, in sum extending over a period of years. The record testimony is also complete from an eyewitness seller who sold the two vehicles to Phifer. An eyewitness testified that Phifer often hid the cocaine in a can or similar container. There was direct evidence of Phifer carrying a pistol, and evidence of seeing a pistol in the laundry room of Phifer's residence during one of the drug deals. In addition, there was evidence of marked money being used in a drug deal and being found thereafter in a dresser drawer in Angle's residence.

        Additionally, the prosecution introduced evidence buttressing the testimony of the eyewitnesses, including the incriminating evidence found in executing search warrants, palm prints of Phifer on a jar containing crack cocaine, sting operations, a search of Angle and his car, various income tax returns, pen registers, $2150 of marked money in a sum of $8099 found in Angle's bedroom during execution of a search warrant, and seizures of various weapons, two police scanners, and $2000 in currency found in executing a search of Phifer's bedroom. All this evidence tended to one degree or another to corroborate and state in greater detail the evidence of the various eye witnesses.

        2. Money Laundering Evidence

        In the summer of 1990, well within the time frame of the drug conspiracy, Phifer purchased two vehicles from co-conspirator Larry Cartledge a red 1984 Corvette and a 1955 Chevy pickup truck. Phifer titled the two cars in the names of his mother and brother, respectively. In the case of the 1955 Chevy pickup, Phifer apparently purchased a second 1955 Chevy pickup and switched license tags to prevent authorities from tracing the car. The jury found that the transactions were designed in part to conceal the fact that he was the true owner of the vehicles and convicted Phifer of both counts of laundering monetary instruments.


        During the trial, it became apparent that there was an error in the search warrant affidavit, leading Angle's counsel to move to suppress all evidence and the fruits thereof discovered during the search. The court interrupted the trial and held an extensive suppression hearing. That hearing revealed that the warrant named a trailer to be searched which was not in fact the one intended to be searched, though the two trailers were located in close proximity to one another. The intended trailer

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was in fact the one that was searched, and the one in which incriminating evidence was found.

        The court found that an innocent mistake had been made in the affidavit for the search warrant, stemming from problems associated with communications between law enforcement agencies in Statesville, and Cleveland, North Carolina, and the Rowan and Iredell Counties' Sheriff's Offices, all of which agencies were attempting to keep informed as to the search and its progress.

        The court concluded that the mistaken identity of the trailer was an honest error,...

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