U.S. v. Harris, s. 92-8489

Decision Date11 May 1994
Docket Number93-8071,Nos. 92-8489,s. 92-8489
Citation20 F.3d 445
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Greg HARRIS, Angelo Vagas, Vernon Copeland, Fredel Williamson, aka Fred Williamson, Defendants-Appellants, Michael D. Griggs, Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee. UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Warren FORD aka Bo, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Bruce S. Harvey, Law Offices of Bruce S. Harvey, Atlanta, GA, for Greg Harris.

Jake Waldrop, Federal Defender Program, Inc., Atlanta, GA, for Angelo Vagas.

Thomas J. Hughes, Jr., Marietta, GA, for Vernon Copeland.

Stanley M. Baum, Bates & Baum, Atlanta, GA, for Fredel Williamson.

Henry C. Johnson, Jr., Decatur, GA, for Michael D. Griggs.

Bryan J. Farrell, Asst. U.S. Atty., Atlanta, GA, for U.S. in No. 92-8489.

Michael J. Trost, Atlanta, GA, for Warren Ford.

John S. Davis, Asst. U.S. Atty., Joe D. Whitley, U.S. Atty., Atlanta, GA, for U.S. in both cases.

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

Before TJOFLAT, Chief Judge, HATCHETT, Circuit Judge, and MERHIGE *, Senior District Judge.

HATCHETT, Circuit Judge:

In this consolidated appeal we review the convictions and sentences of the six appellants convicted of: (1) conspiracy to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 846; (2) possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2; (3) possession of a firearm in relation to a drug felony in violation of 18 U.S.C. Secs. 924(c) and 2; (4) money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. Secs. 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) and 2; and (5) structuring cash transactions to evade federal reporting requirements in violation of 31 U.S.C. Sec. 5324 and 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2. After reviewing each of the claims on appeal, we reject them and affirm the appellants' convictions and sentences.


This conspiracy began in 1986 when appellants Fredel Williamson and Vernon Copeland moved to Atlanta, Georgia, from Miami, Florida, for the purpose of distributing cocaine. Robert Atwater, Williamson's associate, also moved to Atlanta to participate in the distribution of cocaine. After moving to Atlanta, Williamson, Copeland, Atwater, and others made regular trips to Miami to purchase cocaine, importing hundreds of kilograms of cocaine over the course of the conspiracy.

In Atlanta, Williamson and Copeland met Michael Griggs, an Atlanta businessman who facilitated the "investment" of the proceeds of the drug conspiracy. In 1987, with Griggs's help, Williamson, Copeland, Atwater, and appellant Greg Harris purchased a restaurant, named "Tuesdays," which they operated for less than a year. Before purchasing Tuesdays, Williamson, Copeland, and Atwater gave Griggs large sums of cash, which Griggs directed his administrative assistant, Linetta Zachary to deposit in a bank. At Griggs's direction, Zachary made thirty-five separate deposits into several accounts, using seven different branches of the same bank, to avoid the federal reporting requirements.

In July, 1988, Griggs also purchased an Atlanta nightclub, which he named "Sensations." To purchase Sensations, Griggs made several deposits of less than $10,000, into various bank accounts and then drew a cashier's check against the funds. To pay the insurance premium for the nightclub, Copeland and appellant Warren Ford, a drug distributer for Atwater, provided cash payments, which were later converted into cashier's checks. After Griggs purchased Sensations nightclub, it operated on a cash basis.

In 1989, the drug/money laundering conspiracy experienced a series of setbacks which ultimately led to its downfall. On March 26, 1989, law enforcement authorities arrested one of Williamson's drug couriers, Reggie Harris, in possession of nineteen kilos of cocaine. At trial, Harris testified that the cocaine belonged to Williamson. In April, 1989, law enforcement officials arrested a second drug courier, Michael Bush, while he was in possession of fourteen kilos of cocaine. Bush also testified that the cocaine belonged to Williamson. Within weeks of Bush's arrest, Williamson and Griggs became embroiled in an altercation, after which Griggs threatened to call the district attorney. Finally, on May 4, 1989, Zachary reported Griggs to the Internal Revenue Service. The investigation which followed led to the arrests of several of the coconspirators. 1

On October 29, 1990, a United States Magistrate Judge issued a search warrant authorizing the search of Ford's home, 5054 Stoney Point Lane, which he shared with Kathy Luchie and appellant Angelo Vegas. The magistrate judge issued the search warrant, limited to documents, based upon DEA Special Agent Ronald L. Geer's affidavit. In the affidavit Geer relied heavily upon information from four confidential informants.

On October 30, 1990, law enforcement officials proceeded to 5054 Stoney Point Lane with the search warrant and arrest warrants for Ford and Atwater. At the residence, agents found Kathy Luchie sleeping in the master bedroom and Angelo Vegas in the back yard feeding Ford's dogs. Agents detained Luchie and Vegas and later arrested them. Shortly after beginning the search, agents discovered approximately ten kilograms of cocaine, with ninety-seven percent purity, $14,000 in cash, and zip lock baggies above the ceiling tiles in the basement. 2 Also in the basement agents found one ounce of cocaine in a Koolaid can with a false bottom, two boxes of sandwich bags, a case containing a set of scales, and a firearm concealed in a pillow case.

In Ford's bedroom agents found a briefcase containing $22,000 in cash, drug ledgers and various other documents. Agents also found money wrappers, zip lock baggies, three weapons and a one-gram scale in the bedroom. While searching through the kitchen drawers agents found a razor blade, money wrappers and plastic baggies. On the back deck of the house agents discovered an empty kilo wrapper inside a plastic trash bag.

After his detention, Vegas told agents that he worked as the caretaker of the home, washing, doing general maintenance, and taking care of the dogs. 3 Vegas identified the bedroom that he occupied, but admitted having unrestricted access to the entire house. In Vegas's bedroom, agents discovered a carrying case containing a small quantity of cocaine with ninety-seven percent purity, matching the purity level of the cocaine found in the basement. Inside Vegas's wallet agents found Atwater's pager number and several false identification cards, including a Sensations identification card with Vegas's picture but bearing a different name. Although agents arrested Luchie and Vegas shortly after executing the warrant, Ford remained at large until his arrest in February, 1992.


On July 31, 1990, a grand jury indicted Ford, Griggs, Williamson, Copeland, Harris, and Atwater, and in a superseding indictment indicted Vegas and Luchie on November 29, 1990. On November 8, 1991, the government filed a second, twenty-four count superseding indictment, naming Griggs, Williamson, Copeland, Ford, Atwater, Harris, and Vegas as defendants. Count I of the second superseding indictment charged Griggs, Copeland, Atwater, Harris, Ford, and Vegas with conspiracy to distribute cocaine between July, 1986, and July 1990. Count II charged Ford and Vegas with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute on October 30, 1990. Count III charged Ford and Vegas with carrying five firearms during and in relation to a drug felony on October 30, 1990. Counts IV through IX charged Griggs, Williamson, Copeland, and Ford with money laundering. The remaining fifteen counts charged Griggs with structuring cash transactions to evade federal reporting requirements.

On February 12, 1992, following a four and one-half week trial, a jury convicted Griggs, Williamson, Copeland, Harris, and Vegas on most counts, acquitting Vegas on Count III and Griggs and Williamson on Count V. 4 On May 8, 1992, the district court sentenced Griggs to a term of 168 months imprisonment, Copeland to 360 months, Harris to 292 months, and Vegas to 151 months. On June 30, 1992, the court sentenced Williamson to 84 months imprisonment consecutive to a sentence previously imposed in the Middle District of Georgia.

Following his arrest in February, 1992, Ford pleaded not guilty and moved to suppress the evidence seized during the October 30, 1990, search of his home. Following a suppression hearing, a United States Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the district court deny Ford's motion to suppress. The district court adopted the recommendation and denied Ford's motion. Ford and Luchie were tried jointly, and following one mistrial, they were tried a second time beginning October 26, 1992. 5 The jury convicted Ford on the five counts charged in the indictment, and acquitted Luchie. On January 7, 1993, the district court sentenced Ford to 260 months imprisonment on Counts I and II to run concurrently, 240 months imprisonment on Counts VIII and IX, concurrent to the sentences on Counts I and II, and 60 months imprisonment on Count III consecutive to all other sentences.

Each appellant filed a timely notice of appeal.


Although appellants raise a myriad of issues, we find each unpersuasive, and address only two: (1) whether the information contained in the affidavit supporting the issuance of the search warrant for Ford's home was stale; and (2) whether the government introduced sufficient evidence of Vegas's guilt to support his convictions for conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine.


Ford contends that the information contained in Agent Geer's affidavit was stale, making the search warrant invalid. The government contends that the information in the affidavit was not stale because it contained allegations of continuing...

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