66 F.3d 1146 (11th Cir. 1995), 91-4189, United States v. Knowles

Docket Nº:91-4189.
Citation:66 F.3d 1146
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Michael J. KNOWLES, Daniel Wright, a/k/a William Hall, a/k/a Santa Claus, James Bruce Squires, a/k/a John West, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:October 17, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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66 F.3d 1146 (11th Cir. 1995)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Michael J. KNOWLES, Daniel Wright, a/k/a William Hall, a/k/a

Santa Claus, James Bruce Squires, a/k/a John West,


No. 91-4189.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

October 17, 1995

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        Arthur Johnson, Gainesville, FL, for M.J. Knowles.

        Terry N. Silverman, Gainesville, FL, for Wright.

        Edward L. Scott, Ocala, FL, for James Bruce Squires.

        Charles Stansbury White, David L. McGee, Asst. U.S. Attorneys, Tallahassee, FL, for the U.S.

        Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

        Before HATCHETT, Circuit Judge, CLARK, Senior Circuit Judge, and YOUNG [*], Senior District Judge.

        CLARK, Senior Circuit Judge:

        In this large-scale drug conspiracy, co-defendants Michael Knowles, James Squires,

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and Daniel Wright appeal their convictions and sentences on various grounds. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm all three defendants' convictions, but vacate the sentences and remand to the district court for resentencing under pre-Guidelines law.

       I. Background

        A. The nature of the conspiracy

        This case arises out of a large scale conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana, cocaine, and hash oil. Michael Knowles, James Squires and Daniel Wright were indicted along with 23 others for various violations of Title 21 of the United States Code, including conspiracy to import, possess and distribute controlled substances, as well as numerous substantive violations. 1 These three individuals were tried together, and evidence at their trial established the following:

        Beginning during the mid-1970s, a group of individuals including the brothers Kennie and Tico Rodriguez, Mario and Jimmy Controneo, and others formed agreements to obtain large amounts of controlled substances including marijuana and cocaine from various countries in and around the Caribbean to be distributed inside the United States and Canada. During the next several years, these individuals recruited boat captains and crew, airplane pilots, off-loaders and truck drivers to carry out the goals of the criminal organization. On many occasions, the organization used private vessels to import large loads of marijuana and other controlled substances.

        At first, these vessels departed from and returned to one of several private ocean access waterfront homes in Southeastern Florida. The group soon established a second base of operations on the Western coast of Florida, including at least one ocean-access waterfront home in Ft. Myers, and another in Destin. Upon successful transport into one of these ports, the boats would be unloaded by crews who weighed the contraband and loaded it onto transport vehicles equipped with hidden compartments for shipment to buyers in the Northeastern United States and Canada. The organization operated successfully and undetected by law enforcement for years. Overall, the group was responsible for the importation and distribution of approximately 100,000 pounds of marijuana, 10,000 pounds of cocaine, and several hundred pounds of hash oil.

        In approximately 1984 or 1985, Tico Rodriguez recruited Daniel Hamm to captain vessels in several smuggling ventures. Initially, Hamm captained a boat known as the Becky Ann. According to the plan, Hamm, along with a crew consisting of Debbie Behmer and Mike Russell, were to take the boat from South Florida to the Bahamas, then to Jamaica where the boat would be loaded with drugs. From there the boat was to be taken to Cozumel, Mexico, and then to Destin, where the boat would be unloaded. Prior to the departure and pursuant to Tico's direction, Hamm and another individual matching the description of James Squires traveled to Destin to inspect the harbor and dock. Although the smuggling venture was completed without significant incident, the complaints about the boat voiced by the captain and crew caused Tico to arrange for a replacement. Tico arranged for Hamm to use Terry Fitzwater's boat, the Suntimes. With Hamm as captain, the Suntimes brought in four additional loads of approximately 2,500 to 3,000 pounds of marijuana into the Destin area.

        Meanwhile, the Becky Ann was provided to James Squires and Daniel Wright, who had the boat transported to Ft. Myers by two of the group's smuggling captains, Bill Adams and John Rock. Wright assisted Adams and Rock in transporting the boat. According to Rock, John West, a/k/a James Squires, lived at the house in Ft. Myers to which the boat was transported.

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        Meanwhile, Kennie Rodriguez arranged for the purchase of another sailboat, the Freeflight. This boat too was outfitted with hidden compartments with a capacity of approximately 3,000 pounds for smuggling drugs. Thereafter, Rodriguez and Fitzwater ran several successful smuggling loads on Freeflight.

        The Rodriguez brothers also procured another vessel, a large motor boat named the Olives. This was a 52-foot cabin cruiser with a single hidden compartment capable of concealing 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of contraband. Archie Jones and Wolfgang Petrasko were recruited to captain several loads of controlled substances on the Olives.

        In May, 1986, Jones captained one of his two smuggling ventures aboard the Olives. Jones took the vessel first to Puerto Rico, and then to Jamaica where it picked up approximately 7,000 to 8,000 pounds of marijuana, which was ultimately off-loaded in Ft. Myers. Jones later purchased the Olives and, during late 1987, returned the Olives to South Florida with a load of approximately 600 pounds of cocaine.

        The group suffered a significant setback in early 1987 when three of the group's sailboats embarked on smuggling ventures at approximately the same time. These vessels were the Freeflight, Mad Dog II, and the Suntimes. Each of these boats traveled from Florida to Jamaica, where they were loaded with several thousand pounds of marijuana, without incident. However, in January 1987, during a stop-over in the Cayman Islands on its way back to the United States, Mad Dog II was seized and its crew arrested by Cayman law enforcement officers for carrying marijuana. The captain and crew, Michael Russell, Daniel Fedorka, and Debbie Behmer, cooperated and, as a result, the other two boats were targeted and eventually seized as well.

        B. The case against Knowles

        Michael Knowles' involvement in charged criminal activity began in early 1987, immediately after the seizure of the Suntimes in Destin. The Suntimes had traveled to Jamaica, where it was loaded with marijuana. After learning of the seizure of the Mad Dog II, the Suntimes traveled to Cozumel, Mexico, to make it appear that the voyage was simply a tourist venture. The captain of the Suntimes, Charles Davis, aware of the plight of the Mad Dog II, did not want to continue the trip to Florida. He convinced Fitzwater to arrange for a replacement crew to bring the Suntimes back to the United States.

        Fitzwater recruited Hamm to travel to Cozumel, and captain the Suntimes. He also recruited Mike Sudar to act as crew for the trip. Fitzwater promised Hamm $150,000, twice the usual price for an entire smuggling voyage. Hamm and Fitzwater also agreed that if there was trouble, Knowles, a lawyer in Miami, would be contacted.

        Thereafter, Hamm and Sudar traveled to Cozumel, replaced the crew and took the Suntimes back to Destin. Upon arrival on February 3, 1987, the Suntimes was seized and the crew arrested by federal law enforcement agents. Learning of these developments, Fitzwater, who had traveled to Destin to await the arrival of the Suntimes, made arrangements for local lawyers to represent Hamm and Sudar. Hamm himself contacted his girlfriend, Lu Johnson, who contacted Michael Knowles. Knowles then contacted Fitzwater and asked for money to represent Hamm. Knowles traveled to Pensacola to assist in the representation of Hamm at his detention hearing.

        Following the hearing, Hamm told Knowles about Terry Fitzwater (whom Hamm knew as Terry Alexander), and their involvement together in the drug smuggling business. Hamm also advised Knowles about the $150,000 he was owed by Fitzwater for the trip from Cozumel to Destin; Hamm asked Knowles to get the money for him.

        Hamm also spoke with a Pensacola lawyer, Leo Thomas, whom Fitzwater had initially hired to assist in Hamm's representation. According to Thomas, he was hired by "Bob Smith" (an alias used by Terry Fitzwater) to represent Hamm. After taking a check for $37,500 to pay for his representation, Thomas met with Hamm and interviewed him at length. Thomas discovered that Hamm had not only knowingly committed the acts for which he was originally charged stemming

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from the arrest and seizure of the Suntimes, but that he was also knowingly involved in a much larger conspiracy to import and distribute controlled substances. Specifically, Hamm told Thomas that he had captained four other smuggling loads for the Rodriguez brothers. Thomas met with Knowles following his debriefing of Hamm and shared all the information with Knowles.

        Meanwhile, Knowles arranged to meet with Fitzwater to make arrangements to receive Hamm's payment of $150,000 for delivering the drug-laden vessel. Within two or three days, Knowles met with Fitzwater and his girlfriend, Kristine Osterman. According to Fitzwater, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Hamm's situation and his expectation of payment of $150,000. Fitzwater and Knowles agreed that Knowles...

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