United States v. Andino-Rodríguez

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
PartiesUNITED STATES, Appellee, v. ALEXANDRIA ANDINO-RODRÍGUEZ, Defendant, Appellant. UNITED STATES, Appellee, v. KATERIN MARTÍNEZ-ALBERTO, Defendant, Appellant.
Decision Date21 August 2023
Docket Number20-2129,20-2183






Nos. 20-2129, 20-2183

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 21, 2023


Juan F. Matos-De Juan for appellant Andino-Rodrguez. Tina Schneider for appellant Martnez-Alberto.


Jonathan E. Jacobson, with whom W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney, Mariana E. Bauza-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Julia M. Meconiates, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Kayatta, Lynch, and Thompson, Circuit Judges.


THOMPSON, Circuit Judge

Experience has taught us drugs are trafficked in many ways, with drug runners using assorted transportation methods and various concealment techniques to move their narcotics. Today's drug-trafficking case comes by sea, via the Black Wolfpack, a boat that ferried cocaine smugglers and their product between Caribbean islands. Specifically, the players in this scheme undertook voyages from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas to acquire and package bricks of cocaine for transport back to Puerto Rico, where they would then receive compensation for their efforts. That came to an end in January 2018, though, when federal agents intercepted the Black Wolfpack off the coast of St. Thomas and, with it, four of the trafficking enterprise's participants.

What resulted was a multi-defendant indictment charging drug conspiracy crimes. While four co-conspirators entered guilty pleas, our appellants -- co-defendants Katerin Martnez-Alberto ("Martnez") and Alexandria Andino-Rodrguez ("Andino") -- each exercised their trial rights. Following a joint eight-day jury trial, both were convicted for their roles in the trafficking venture.

Now, in these consolidated appeals, Martnez and Andino, alleging trial and sentencing errors, ask us to reverse what happened below. But for reasons we'll explain, we affirm in toto.




Drawing from the record to tell this tale -- and doing so in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, see, e.g., United States v. Ciresi, 697 F.3d 19, 23 (1st Cir. 2012) (citing United States v. Mitchell, 596 F.3d 18, 20 n.1 (1st Cir. 2010)) -- we begin by laying out the facts of the drug-trafficking scheme in which our appellants were embroiled, providing a good bit of saga up front in order to facilitate the gentle reader's understanding of how this all transpired. We will fill in more detail later, when additional factual and procedural particulars become necessary to our analysis.

Back on January 27, 2018, in the Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas, a Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") marine interdiction agent had eyes on the Black Wolfpack, a vessel suspected of trafficking drugs to and from Puerto Rico.[1] Walking towards the Black Wolfpack, carrying luggage, boxes, and a cooler, were two men and two women, later identified as Maximiliano Figueroa-Benjamin ("Maximiliano"), Emiliano Figueroa-Benjamin


("Emiliano"),[2] Martinez's, and Andino. All aboard, the Black Wolfpack departed the St. Thomas marina towards Puerto Rico, but, about halfway through what became a hazardous return journey,[3] it was intercepted and escorted back to St. Thomas by law enforcement.

Over the course of their searches that day, federal agents seized from the Black Wolfpack several items, including the four individuals' identifications as well as their cell phones.[4]Also found and retrieved inside a hidden compartment were 55 bundles of what was believed (and subsequently confirmed) to be cocaine. Two days later, agents further searched the Black Wolfpack, this time finding 56 bundles of suspected cocaine under a table bolted to the vessel's floor.[5] Among the 111 total bundles seized, there were various stickers and insignia affixed to the


bricks, including stickers with crowns and $100 bills on them. All told, the total weight of the 111 cocaine bricks was 132 kilograms, with a street value of $20k-22k per brick (for a grand total of more than $2 million in value).

To better understand the scope of what led to this moment at sea, let us travel back to 2017 to walk through what happened over the course of the charged conspiracy. Because while January 27, 2018 was the first time this group got caught, it was not their first rodeo.

We introduce you to two names, new to our recounting but central to the enterprise: Bernardo Coplin-Benjamin ("Coplin") and Jose Javier Resto-Miranda ("Resto").[6] It was Coplin who, around March of 2017, came up with the grand idea to buy a boat that would move drugs from St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, and in anticipation of that goal Coplin asked his friend and associate,


Resto, for his help. In time, Coplin followed up and purchased a boat: the Wasikoki.

In preparation to set sail on their trafficking venture, Coplin and Resto did some reconnaissance. To get a read on the planned route, length of the trip, and fuel costs, Coplin asked another individual (whose identity is irrelevant here) to captain a test run. Aboard that April 2017 Wasikoki trial outing were Coplin, Andino (a close friend of Resto, who brought her into the enterprise), and Maximiliano.

Thereafter, with the route settled, a basic plan was hatched: Resto, Maximiliano, Martinez's (another of Resto's friends and recruits), and Andino would make a trip on the Wasikoki to St. Thomas, with the women playing the roles of "fillers" to erect a facade of two couples out on a leisure ride (Resto told them they'd be paid $3,000 apiece for their participation); the group would pick up the cocaine; and they'd return to Puerto Rico with it. Come May 2017, they headed out to sea. Upon their arrival in St. Thomas, Maximiliano picked up the cocaine from his contact there, and he and Resto stashed the vacuum-sealed and greased bundles in a hidden compartment on the Wasikoki. But then they hit a snag: The Wasikoki had technical problems. Resto (as captain on this voyage) decided the journey would have to be abandoned -- as he told his companions aboard the vessel, it wasn't worth the risk of undertaking the drug run on the Wasikoki when she was struggling


with mechanical issues and might break down. Resto gave the kilos to Maximiliano, who returned them to his contact. Emptyhanded, the Wasikoki and its crew then made the return voyage back to Puerto Rico.

The Wasikoki's mechanical issues were persistent, as it turned out, so in May 2017, Resto helped Coplin acquire a new boat: the Black Wolfpack, which Resto registered in his name.

In late July or early August of 2017, Resto, Maximiliano, and Andino (no Martinez's this time) climbed aboard the Black Wolfpack and made another trip to Crown Bay Marina in St. Thomas to pick up cocaine. Once there, Maximiliano went to meet with the supplier while Resto and Andino went to an apartment on St. Thomas to help get the cocaine ready for its journey to Puerto Rico, including by putting the coke into packages, some of which had crowns on the seal. More on this later. For context, all the reader need file away for now is that Andino made another trip, then helped package the kilos for transport home to Puerto Rico, where, at Coplin's house, she received $7,000 for her efforts. Also worth noting now, for purposes of explaining Resto's role in all of this, is that Resto got $35,000 and complained he "thought it should be more."

The Black Wolfpack set sail for St. Thomas yet again in September 2017, this time with Andino, Maximiliano, Resto, and his girlfriend (who is not a co-defendant here) aboard, and under the


pretext that they were bringing aid in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Andino again participated in preparing the cocaine for transportation, then got back aboard the Black Wolfpack to head back to Puerto Rico, where she, as before, was paid $7,000 for her efforts. Resto, again disappointed by his "unfair" payout ($20,000 this time), confronted Coplin, urging that he should be paid more as captain. Coplin's response was to tell Resto "to deal with it" -- "this [was] the way that it was going to be done." Displeased and feeling like the risk/benefit balance was not "a good deal" for him, Resto then "distanced" himself from the group.

A couple of months later, text messages between Martinez's and Andino reflected an upcoming November 4, 2017 trip. Indeed, Crown Bay Marina paperwork bears Andino's registration of the Black Wolfpack on that same date. Further proof of that particular voyage -- telling photos. There's a November 4 selfie of Martinez's and Andino that was found on Maximiliano's phone during the search following that January 27, 2018 seizure -- it shows the women aboard the Black Wolfpack with the cooler they used to transport the cocaine from its packaging site back to the vessel. And Maximiliano is in another picture from his phone -- he's steering the Black Wolfpack, and Martinez's and Andino are standing in close proximity. Meanwhile, Martinez's phone contained a November 4 photo showing crown-sticker and $100-bill-sticker bundles.


And St. Thomas got another November 2017 visit from the Black Wolfpack, this time on the 17th. Marina registration papers for that day once more show Andino's signature, and Maximiliano's phone has a November 19 photo showing him, Andino, Martinez's, and another individual at the cocaine-packaging site (an apartment) with that telltale cooler used to move the kilos (as Resto attested at trial) behind them.

Fast forward to January 2018, back to the events we started with. Now, Resto had not been participating in this drugtrafficking enterprise for a few months, but he was asked to join for that January 2018 trip. He declined, instead going to Alaska, where he...

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