Lopez v. United States

Decision Date16 February 2022
Docket Number16-cr-20004-JES
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of Illinois
PartiesJOSE JAIME LOPEZ, Petitioner-Defendant, v. UNITED STATES, Respondent-Plaintiff.

JOSE JAIME LOPEZ, Petitioner-Defendant,
v.

UNITED STATES, Respondent-Plaintiff.

No. 16-cr-20004-JES

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Urbana Division

February 16, 2022


ORDER AND OPINION

James E. Shadid United States District Judge

Before the Court is Petitioner-Defendant Jose Jaime Lopez's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (d/e 75), Motion to Amend his § 2255 Motion (d/e 84), and Motion for Equitable Tolling and Equal Treatment (d/e 94). Lopez's Motion claims that his indictment was defective, raises statutory and due process claims related to Judge Bruce's failure to recuse, and raises ineffective assistance counsel claims related to trial and/or appellate counsel's failure to address these arguments. For the reasons below, the Court DENIES Petitioner's § 2255 Motion (d/e 75), DENIES Petitioner's Motion to Amend (d/e 84), and DECLINES to issue a Certificate of Appealability. Petitioner's Motion for Equitable Tolling and Equal Treatment (d/e 94) is DISMISSED as moot.

I. BACKGROUND A. Lopez's Conviction and Sentence

The facts underlying Lopez's convictions have been summarized in both the Seventh Circuit's opinion on his direct appeal, United States v. Lopez, 907 F.3d 537 (7th Cir. 2018), and in this Court's previous order on his motion for a new trial, United States v. Lopez, No. 16-CR-20004-JES-JEH, 2020 WL 5017762

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(C.D. Ill. Aug. 25, 2020). However, for ease of reference, the facts of his case will again be recounted here in summary fashion. In 2014, law enforcement agents intercepted cellular communications after securing a warrant from a Maryland state court judge. The communications revealed that Heliodoro Moreno planned to transport a large quantity of illegal drugs from Texas to Lopez in Illinois, using George Salinas as a courier. Lopez arranged for his friend Andrew Linares to pick up the illegal drugs from Salinas and bring them to him. Law enforcement intercepted the drugs at an Illinois bus stop, arrested Salinas and Linares, and seized 10 ounces of methamphetamine from Salinas. In 2015, the government developed a source who initiated three controlled purchases of illegal drugs from Lopez, who was later charged along with others in this case. Lopez was indicted with one count of knowingly attempting to possess 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(viii), as well as one count of distributing a mixture and substance containing cocaine, two counts of distributing methamphetamine, and one count of possession with intent to distribute a substance containing cocaine. Lopez, 907 F.3d. at 540. The last count, possession with intent to distribute a substance containing cocaine was later dismissed by the government. See October 24, 2016 Minute Entry.

Lopez pled not guilty and had a jury trial presided over by United States District Judge Colin S. Bruce. The trial evidence showed Lopez used the telephone number identified in the Maryland state court order and the United States and multiple witnesses confirmed the number as Lopez's. The intercepted calls revealed that Morena asked Lopez if he could promote “whiskey” where he lived, and Lopez responded, “a lot is moving here.” Moreno and Lopez also discussed the quantity of drugs (“onions”) and cost (“$1, 000 per onion”). Moreno also confirmed Lopez knew Salinas and told Lopez that Salinas would contact him. The next day, Salinas and Lopez

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spoke about Salinas bringing a shipment of drugs from Texas to Illinois. During the next three days, Moreno, Salinas, and Lopez made plans for Salinas to travel by bus from Houston to Illinois to deliver 10 ounces of drugs to Lopez. The plan was for Salinas to stay in Illinois until he received $4, 000 from Lopez, after which Lopez would settle up with Moreno for the remaining balance. To effectuate the plan, Lopez asked his friend Linares to pick up Salinas at the bus stop. Lopez, 907 F.3d at 540-41.

On October 2, 2014, Salinas went to a Houston bus station and met one of Moreno's workers, who took him to pick up a cellophane-wrapped package which Salinas hid in his crotch area before boarding the bus to Rantoul, Illinois. Salinas periodically sent text messages to Lopez over the 24-hour trip updating him on the status of the delivery. On October 3, 2014, Linares, who knew Salinas only as “old man, ” waited at the Rantoul bus stop for Salinas' arrival. Earlier that morning, Lopez reminded Linares to pick up Salinas and told Linares of the status of Salinas' bus. He confirmed the pickup location and directed him to take Salinas to Lopez's home. When Linares arrived at the bus stop, he sent a text message to Lopez stating he had arrived, and it looked “all clear.” Lopez responded, “see you in a bit.” Salinas informed Lopez when the bus arrived, and Lopez responded that Linares was at the bus stop and instructed Salinas not to say anything. Id. at 541-42.

On the day prior, Baltimore DEA agents informed agents in Illinois about the intercepted phone calls, and by that evening Illinois agents had obtained a search warrant for prospective cell phone location data. The Illinois DEA agents used the cell phone location data and physical surveillance to identify the bus Salinas was traveling on and followed it to Rantoul. Law enforcement agents arrested Salinas and Linares after Salinas exited the bus and entered Linares' car. Salinas gave them the package, which was later tested and determined to contain 276 grams

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of methamphetamine. While in custody, Salinas and Linares consented to searches of their cell phones, which revealed text messages to and from Lopez about the planned drug transaction and call records showing multiple attempted calls from Lopez after their arrest. Both phones had contact information for Lopez with Lopez's cell phone number. Law enforcement waited to arrest Lopez and completed three controlled buys from Lopez in 2015. In January 2016, law enforcement executed a search warrant on Lopez's home, seizing address books with contact information for Salinas and Linares, digital scales, ingredients used in the manufacture of cocaine and methamphetamine, and vacuum heat sealers and other drug packaging equipment. Following the three-day jury trial, the jury convicted Lopez on all counts, and determined the offense involved 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. Id.

Prior to trial, the government had filed an information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, notifying Lopez of its intent to seek a sentencing enhancement due to Lopez's prior felony drug convictions. Accordingly, at sentencing, Lopez faced a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment on Count One. On February 17, 2017, Judge Bruce imposed the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment on Count One, as well as life on Counts Three and Four, and 188 months on Count Two. See Judgment (d/e 45).

Lopez appealed, arguing that the district court should not have denied his motion to suppress, that there was insufficient evidence for a conviction, and that his mandatory life sentence should not have been imposed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence and conviction on October 24, 2018. United States v. Lopez, 907 F.3d 537 (2018). The Supreme Court denied Lopez's Petition for writ of certiorari on April 22, 2019. Lopez v. United States, 139 S.Ct. 1612 (2019).

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B. Discovery of Ex Parte Communications Between Judge Bruce and the United States Attorney's Office.

As stated above, United States District Judge Colin S. Bruce presided over Lopez's criminal proceedings. For the purposes of this Opinion, the Court assumes the reader's familiarity with the facts surrounding Judge Bruce's ex parte communications with the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois (“the Office”). These facts have been comprehensively discussed and analyzed by the Seventh Circuit Judicial Council and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and are recounted here only in a summary fashion. See In re Complaints Against Dist. Judge Colin S. Bruce, Nos. 07-18-90053, 07-18-90067 (7th Cir. Jud. Council May 14, 2019) (available at http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/judicial-conduct/judicialconduct2018/0718-90053and07-18-90067.pdf); United States v. Williams, 949 F.3d 1056 (7th Cir. 2020); United States v. Atwood, 941 F.3d 883 (7th Cir. 2020).

Prior to his appointment to the judiciary, Judge Bruce worked in the Office in Urbana, Illinois, in the Central District of Illinois for twenty-four years. In August 2018, a newspaper reported that Judge Bruce had engaged in ex parte communications with the Office regarding the criminal trial of United States v. Nixon, a case he was presiding over. In the emails to a paralegal at the Office, Judge Bruce criticized a novice prosecutor, complaining that her weak cross examination had turned the case “from a slam-dunk for the prosecution to about a 60-40 for the defendant, ” and called the defendant's testimony “bullshit.” Upon learning of the emails, the undersigned, in my capacity at the time as Chief District Judge, removed Judge Bruce from all cases involving the Office. See Williams, 949 F.3d at 1059.

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The Office conducted a search of its email archives between Judge Bruce's chambers and the Office, finding over one-hundred ex parte communications. The majority of the emails addressed ministerial matters. However:

they often showed Judge Bruce cheering on Office employees and addressing them by nicknames. For example, Judge Bruce corresponded ex parte with a secretary in the Office about scheduling for Atwood's co-defendant, writing, “Roger-dodger. GO SONCHETTA [a nickname for the secretary]!” And after a pretrial conference, Judge Bruce reassured a prosecutor about a filing miscommunication: “My bad. You're doing fine. Let's get this thing done.” At other times, Judge Bruce wrote to prosecutors in the Office to congratulate and thank
...

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