United States v. Mojica, 071417 FED7, 16-2985

Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Judge Panel:Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Party Name:United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Benito Mojica, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:July 14, 2017
Docket Nº:16-2985

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Benito Mojica, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 16-2985

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 14, 2017

          Argued May 25, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 12 CR 00755-5 - Ronald A. Guzman, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.


         Appellant Benito Mojica appeals his conviction on two counts for various drug-trafficking crimes. Mojica claims that the district court improperly denied his motion to suppress cocaine and other evidence. He also challenges his sentence, disputing the district court's finding that he was jointly accountable for 18.084 kilograms of cocaine. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Investigation and Arrest

         Beginning in 2011, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies investigated a large-scale cocaine-trafficking organization operated by Jose de Jesus Ramirez-Padilla (known as "Gallo"), in Chicago, Illinois. Federal agents placed court-authorized wiretaps on Gallo's phones, which intercepted numerous calls. As a result of this investigation, the government charged 40 individuals, including Mojica, with various drug-trafficking crimes.

         In May 2012, Gallo was robbed at gunpoint outside of his residence where he initially kept his drugs and money. Because he worried that the robbers would return to burglarize his home, he looked for a new place to store his drugs and money. Gallo learned from his brothers that Mojica, who was one of Gallo's regular customers, had an apartment to rent.1 Mojica co-owned a two-story residence on 46th Place in Chicago, where he lived with his family on the first floor and rented out the second floor.

         On May 8, 2012, Gallo called Mojica, telling him that he was recently robbed at gunpoint and that he was looking for an apartment. Gallo explained to Mojica that he wanted his brothers, Luis Ramirez-Padilla ("Luis") and Horacio Ramirez-Padilla ("Horacio"), to use Mojica's second-floor apartment as a stash house. Gallo assured Mojica that his brothers would not bring customers to Mojica's apartment. Mojica agreed to this arrangement and provided a stash house for Gallo's cocaine and drug proceeds from May 20, 2012, until September 27, 2012.

         On September 27, 2012, federal agents executed an arrest warrant for Mojica. After his arrest, he was transported to the street outside the front of his home. Meanwhile, other agents executed a search warrant for the first and second floors of Mojica's two-story residence. The agents searched the second floor, which was rented out to Gallo's brothers, Luis and Horacio. During the search, agents found $113, 991.60, 86 grams of cocaine, scales, a cutting agent, and cell phones.

         The agents also searched the first floor residence where Mojica lived with his family. There, FBI Agent Gustavo Martinez interviewed Mojica's wife, Sonia Mojica; he learned that Mojica possessed the only keys to their detached garage, located near the rear of the property. The keys to the garage were obtained from Mojica, who was outside in an agent's vehicle. Sonia gave the agents consent, both orally and in writing, to search the detached garage where the agents found cell phones, various papers, several boxes of baggies, and two baggies containing cocaine. There was a notepad near the bags of cocaine with Luis' phone number followed by the words "Gallo #2."

         B. Procedural History

         On January 8, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment charging 23 individuals, including Mojica, with drug-trafficking crimes. Specifically, Mojica was charged with conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Mojica's trial was severed from his co-defendants and ended in a mistrial.

         On July 8, 2014, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment, charging Mojica with the same crimes charged in the original indictment plus two counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), and four counts of using a cell phone in the commission of a felony in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 843(b).

         Mojica filed a motion to suppress, arguing that Sonia lacked the authority to consent to the search of the garage. The district court held a hearing on January 14, 2015, where several witnesses testified,...

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