337 F.3d 580 (6th Cir. 2003), 01-5602, U.S. v. Solorio

Docket Nº:01-5602
Citation:337 F.3d 580
Party Name:U.S. v. Solorio
Case Date:July 22, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 580

337 F.3d 580 (6th Cir. 2003)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Jose Ruiz SOLORIO (01-5602); Ricky Martin Luna (01-5603); Delmas Dennis (01-5666); Marco Juarez (01-5667), Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 01-5602, 01-5603, 01-5666, 01-5667.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 22, 2003

Submitted and Argued April 29, 2003.

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Robert Anderson (briefed), Asst. U.S. Attorney, Nashville, TN, John A. Drennan (argued and briefed), U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Paul J. Bruno (briefed), Bruno, Haymaker & Heroux, Nashville, TN, Thomas

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J. Drake, Jr. (briefed), Nashville, TN, Robert L. Marlow (argued and briefed), Shelbyville, TN, Michael D. Noel (argued and briefed), Nashville, TN, for Defendants-Appellants in 01-5602, 01-5603, 01-5666 and 01-5667.

Before: MOORE and ROGERS, Circuit Judges; KATZ, District Judge. [*]

OPINION

MOORE, Circuit Judge.

Delmas Dennis, Marco Juarez, Jose Ruiz Solorio, and Ricky Martin Luna were all arrested for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841, as well as for other various drug-related crimes. The four defendants were part of a vast drug enterprise that brought large quantities of cocaine and marijuana into Nashville. They were convicted by a jury of these crimes and given sentences ranging from 210 months (Solorio) to 292 months (Juarez).

On appeal, they together raise nine claims of error. For the reasons that follow, we find none of their claims of error persuasive, and so we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The defendants in this case were all part of a drug ring that bought, transported, and sold sizeable amounts of marijuana and cocaine. The leaders of this operation (which was based in Nashville) were Terrell McMurry and Timothy Booker. McMurry and Booker, as putative defendants, entered into plea agreements with the government, and thus became the government's key witnesses at trial. They testified extensively to the roles of the four defendants in the overall conspiracy.

McMurry and Booker began distributing cocaine and marijuana in 1994. They had two main sources of drugs. The first were Omar Rocha Rodriguez (known as Omar Rocha) and Adriana Rocha Espinoza (a woman who lived with Rocha). Rocha and Espinoza lived in San Diego and sent drugs to McMurry and Booker through Chicago. The shipments from Rocha and Espinoza, which each consisted of between twenty and forty kilograms of cocaine, came three times from May 1998 to August 1999 (this being the time period stated in the indictment). The second source of drugs came from a source known as "Alex," who was in Chicago.

At trial, Booker and McMurry explained that the conspiracy operated in the following way. When the drugs arrived in Nashville, they were delivered by a green Tahoe truck, which Luna (who was also known as "Playboy") would meet. The drugs were unloaded by Luna, Juarez, McMurry, and Quentin Hearn. 1 The drugs were generally kept at the homes of Juarez, McMurry, or Hearn. Especially large loads were stored at Solorio's ranch. McMurry and Booker gave the money to pay for the cocaine and marijuana to Juarez, who gave it to Luna, who gave it to the parties owed.

1. Juarez's Role in the Conspiracy

Juarez was employed directly by McMurry and Booker. They paid him a salary, roughly between four and five thousand dollars a month. Juarez helped McMurry and Booker transport and unload

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cocaine. He also helped send cash payments back to McMurry's and Booker's suppliers. As the operation developed, McMurry, Booker, and Rocha rented an apartment for Juarez in Chicago so that Juarez could deliver drugs to McMurry's and Booker's customers there.

In addition to McMurry's and Booker's testimony, there was considerable other evidence against Juarez. Juarez was stopped by police in Chicago on October 30, 1998. He consented to a search, in which the FBI discovered that the vehicle had been retrofitted with hidden compartments of a type that were used for transporting drugs. The FBI intercepted phone calls between Juarez and McMurry discussing Juarez's plans to unload a shipment of drugs into Hearn's house and revealing that one of the 50-pound shipments of marijuana was short. The FBI also intercepted phone calls between Juarez and Booker discussing various drug-related matters. Juarez was photographed with McMurry and Booker visiting Rocha in San Diego and was also seen with Rocha in Chicago several times.

More evidence against Juarez was obtained in the course of his arrest on March 18, 1999. That morning Juarez had left the apartment he leased at 710 Saxony Drive in a white pickup, went to Hearn's residence to unload the forty pounds of marijuana that were in the truck, and was arrested while driving away. After his arrest, the police searched his apartment pursuant to a valid search warrant. In the apartment, they found two 9-mm Glock handguns. The guns were located inside a pair of boots, which were on top of a small black bag. Inside the bag was a variety of drug trafficking tools: a money counter, drug ledgers, paper money wrappers, and rubber bands. In the search of the apartment, officers found one of Luna's pagers. They also found drug ledgers with the name "Cepillo" next to some figures.

2. Luna's Role in the Conspiracy

Luna, like Juarez, aided in the transport and delivery of drugs, counted drug money, and transported McMurry and Booker's cash payments back to the drug suppliers. Luna was not employed directly by McMurry and Booker. Instead, he worked principally for Rocha and was seen with him in Chicago several times.

In addition to Booker's and McMurry's testimony against Luna, there was other independent evidence implicating Luna in the conspiracy. On January 29, 1999, the Nashville police stopped Luna. They found that his vehicle, like Juarez's, had been retrofitted with hidden compartments. The FBI, who was intercepting McMurry's conversations, overheard McMurry and Espinoza discussing this stop. Luna was also visually spotted by the government both with McMurry (in a parking garage) and with Rocha and Espinoza (in the Los Angeles Airport).

On April 15, 1999, after Juarez had been arrested, the police searched Luna's Nashville apartment pursuant to a valid warrant. They found transaction receipts bearing his name, receipts bearing Juarez's and Espinoza's names, and a document indicating that a "Solorio Ruiz Jose" (presumably the defendant, Jose Ruiz Solorio) had rented an automobile. The police also found a drug ledger, balls of elastic bands commonly used in drug transactions, a number of cellular telephones, and a yellow sheet of paper with "Sepillo" written on it. Two days later, Luna was arrested. In his possession were a Mexican passport, a visa, and a border-crossing card all with the name

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Omar Saenz Neda. 2 The picture in the passport, however, was of Luna.

3. Dennis's Role in the Conspiracy

Dennis was McMurry's and Booker's largest drug customer; McMurry testified that Dennis normally received half of each arriving drug shipment. Hearn testified that he delivered the drugs to Dennis at his store and returned Dennis's payment to McMurry and Booker. In one transaction, Dennis paid McMurry $60,000 for cocaine.

It was through a wiretap that the government discovered that Dennis was involved with McMurry. Government agents intercepted a conversation between Dennis and McMurry. Though the conversation was essentially in code--Dennis and McMurry deliberately used phrases and terms that only those inside the conspiracy would understand--McMurry "decoded" the conversation at trial, explaining how the conversation really was about how Dennis owed $6,000 to McMurry and how Dennis needed to return a number of short-weighed kilograms of cocaine (known as "bad checks").

4. Solorio's Role in the Conspiracy

Jose Ruiz Solorio, who was known as "Cepillo," 3 was more loosely connected to these drug transactions. While Booker and McMurry knew the other three defendants intimately and testified extensively against them, they had less of a connection to Solorio. McMurry and Booker never talked to or met Solorio before his arrest. McMurry did testify, however, that they often stored drugs at Solorio's ranch in the Nashville area.

The more significant ties were between Solorio and Rocha. The FBI intercepted several telephone conversations between them. In one of these essentially coded conversations, Solorio spoke of getting one thousand "tires" out in a week--"tires" apparently being euphemisms for units of cocaine. After the FBI intercepted another of Solorio's and Rocha's conversations, Solorio was photographed with Rocha and another man by the name of Moises Picos-Picos. 4

Moises Picos-Picos, who also testified for the government at trial, worked for Solorio. Solorio leased an apartment for Picos-Picos and arranged for him to come over from Tijuana to help Solorio. Picos-Picos undertook many drug-related tasks for Solorio, such as delivering bags of cocaine and money and keeping records of his drug transactions.

On August 17, 1999 (after the arrests of Juarez and Luna), law enforcement officers executed an arrest warrant for Solorio. Solorio was asked if he was "Cepillo" and raised his hand and nodded. 5 McMurry

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testified that after Solorio was arrested, Solorio approached him in jail and told him that he had 40 kilograms of drugs buried at his Nashville ranch that needed to be excavated.

B. The Results of the Jury Trial

The jury convicted...

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