United States v. Albarran, 111519 FED2, 17-2018

Docket Nº:17-2018, 17-2097
Opinion Judge:Carney, Circuit Judge
Party Name:United States of America, Appellee, v. Samuel Albarran, Wilson Vasquez, Defendants-Appellants, Francisco Rodriguez, Victor Rivera, Todd Beilby, Nelson Colon, Alfredo Collazo, Miguel Soto, Frank Mrowka, Elio Delima, Emmanuel Fleming, Jose Lugo, Anthony Velez, Jose Albarran, Luis Albarran, Victor Azevedo, Roberto Torres, Defendants.
Attorney:Daniel M. Perez, Law Offices of Daniel M. Perez, Newton, NJ, for Wilson Vasquez . Scott F. Gleason, Gleason Law Offices, P.C., Haverhill, MA, for Samuel Albarran. H. Gordon Hall (Marc H. Silverman, on the brief), for John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, New Have...
Judge Panel:Before Lynch, Carney, and Droney, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:November 15, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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United States of America, Appellee,

v.

Samuel Albarran, Wilson Vasquez, Defendants-Appellants,

Francisco Rodriguez, Victor Rivera, Todd Beilby, Nelson Colon, Alfredo Collazo, Miguel Soto, Frank Mrowka, Elio Delima, Emmanuel Fleming, Jose Lugo, Anthony Velez, Jose Albarran, Luis Albarran, Victor Azevedo, Roberto Torres, Defendants.1

Nos. 17-2018, 17-2097

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

November 15, 2019

Submitted: August 29, 2018

In 2016, in related prosecutions, Defendants-Appellants Samuel Albarran and Wilson Vasquez each pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Bolden, J.) to charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin. Albarran also pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. On appeal, Vasquez urges that his sentence of 151 months' imprisonment is substantively unreasonable. Albarran in turn challenges the District Court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. For the reasons set forth further below, neither challenge succeeds. We conclude that the District Court acted within its discretion when it sentenced Vasquez primarily to 151 months in prison. As to Albarran, we decide that the District Court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Albarran's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the District Court's June 29, 2017 judgment as to Albarran and June 30, 2017 judgment as to Vasquez.

Affirmed.

Daniel M. Perez, Law Offices of Daniel M. Perez, Newton, NJ, for Wilson Vasquez .

Scott F. Gleason, Gleason Law Offices, P.C., Haverhill, MA, for Samuel Albarran.

H. Gordon Hall (Marc H. Silverman, on the brief), for John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, New Haven, CT.

Before Lynch, Carney, and Droney, Circuit Judges.

Carney, Circuit Judge

In 2016, in related prosecutions, Defendants-Appellants Samuel Albarran and Wilson Vasquez each pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Bolden, Judge) to conspiracy to distribute heroin. Vasquez pleaded guilty to violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B)(i), and 846. Albarran pleaded guilty to violating 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 846. Albarran also pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) and (c)(2). On appeal, Vasquez urges that his sentence primarily of 151 months' imprisonment is substantively unreasonable; Albarran in turn challenges the District Court's denial of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

For the reasons set forth below, neither challenge succeeds. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the District Court's June 29, 2017 judgment as to Albarran and June 30, 2017 judgment as to Vasquez.

BACKGROUND2

In 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") began investigating a substantial heroin trafficking organization based in Fair Haven, a neighborhood within the New Haven, Connecticut, city limits. Through in-person surveillance, the warranted interception of thousands of telephone conversations, and "controlled buys"-that is, drug purchases effected by undercover agents-the DEA's work revealed a sprawling drug distribution scheme in which Wilson Vasquez was a principal and his half- brother, Samuel Albarran, was a participant. The investigation led to the indictment in 2015 of seventeen individuals, including Vasquez and Albarran.

I. Wilson Vasquez

Evidence gathered by the DEA in 2014 and 2015 showed that, during this period, Vasquez regularly acquired heroin in bulk and arranged for his associates to package and redistribute the drug. Every few weeks, Vasquez provided his workers with as much as 500 grams of heroin. Those individuals would then divide the bulk into 25- gram quantities and place the portions into bags, some of which were stamped with a logo associated with Vasquez. Vasquez, who ran these bagging sessions out of his own residence and at other locations in Fair Haven, then retrieved the bagged drugs from his workers and distributed them to his street-level operatives for sale. One of his workers estimated later that he alone had bagged approximately five kilograms of heroin for Vasquez over the course of a year. It also appeared that, during this time, at least one individual using heroin obtained from Vasquez's operation died from an overdose.3

Vasquez was arrested on July 15, 2015. A little over one year later, having reached an agreement with the government, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of a mixture containing heroin, under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B)(i), 846. As part of this plea agreement, the government made a Guidelines sentencing recommendation of 121 to 151 months' incarceration, calculated based on a total adjusted offense level of 31 and criminal history category of II.4

Judge Bolden sentenced Vasquez in June 2017. Before pronouncing the sentence, the judge reviewed aloud the factors that it considered in reaching its decision. The court emphasized the gravity of Vasquez's conduct: for at least one year, he had led a drug trafficking conspiracy that involved sixteen other participants and that harmed "countless victims." Vasquez App'x 121. The judge pointed to the death of one young person following the use of heroin distributed by Vasquez's ring as an example of the gravity of the offense. Offsetting these aggravating circumstances, at least in part, the court recognized Vasquez's relatively limited criminal history (albeit one involving drugs); Vasquez's own substance abuse; and the physical abuse Vasquez had suffered as a child at the hands of his stepfather. Aiming to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities among Vasquez's co-defendants, the court also cited as benchmarks the sentences it had imposed on them.

In the end, according significant weight to Vasquez's leadership role and the tremendous toll that heroin addiction was taking on the Fair Haven community, Judge Bolden imposed a sentence on Vasquez of 151 months' incarceration, at the top of the applicable Guidelines range.

II. Samuel Albarran

A. The investigation

Phone calls lawfully intercepted by the DEA from April 24 through 26, 2015, revealed that Vasquez's half-brother, Samuel Albarran, was involved in Vasquez's heroin distribution conspiracy. During several recorded calls, the two men discussed the price of heroin, and Albarran agreed to acquire drugs for Vasquez. Based largely on these intercepted conversations, on July 9, 2015, a grand jury indicted Albarran for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute heroin.

During the week of July 6, 2015, agents surveilling Albarran saw him in the immediate vicinity of 501 Blatchley Avenue, a three-unit residential building in Fair Haven. About one week after Albarran's indictment, on July 15, law enforcement officers attempted to execute a warrant for Albarran's arrest at the first-floor apartment of 501 Blatchley, an apartment leased by one of Albarran's brothers. After entering the apartment to arrest him, the agents realized that Albarran was not present, but, while conducting a protective sweep of the unit, the officers saw, in plain view, substances they suspected to be heroin and cocaine; a money counter; and four 50-gallon drum-like containers.

Some officers later returned to the residence with a search warrant in hand, and proceeded to search the first-floor apartment and to examine the 50-gallon drums. They uncovered substantial additional evidence of criminal activity related to the drug trade: they found cocaine, heroin, and marijuana; three scales; drug packaging materials; a kilogram press; six 9mm bullets (these were found in an unmarked plastic bottle on the kitchen counter); drug ledger sheets; cash in the amount of roughly $21, 000; and two firearms. In the apartment's bedroom, the officers also found a Capitol One credit card bill bearing Albarran's name and addressed to him at a location other than 501 Blatchley.

During the search, an officer spoke to Aida Torrez, a third-floor tenant at 501 Blatchley. Torrez informed the officer that "she knew the resident [of the first-floor unit] as Sam." Gov't App'x 182. Upon being shown Albarran's photograph, she identified him "as the sole resident of the first[-]floor apartment." Id. Torrez recalled that she had last seen Albarran in the rear lot of the house on the preceding day at about 5 pm. Torrez said further that she often saw Albarran leaving the first-floor unit around 7 am, when she was returning home after work.

In February 2016, about six months after the return of the indictment and search of the apartment, Albarran was arrested. After his arrest, a pretrial service officer who was preparing...

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