United States v. Parker

Decision Date21 May 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 2:98-cr-00749-CAS-1
Citation461 F.Supp.3d 966
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Richard Wayne PARKER, Defendant.

Kevin Scott Rosenberg, Lowenstein and Weatherwax LLP, Lizabeth A. Rhodes, AUSA - Office of US Attorney Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, Skyler Cho, AUSA - Office of US Attorney International Narcotics Money Laundering and Racketeering, Los Angeles, CA, for Plaintiff.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

CHRISTINA A. SNYDER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

"A judgment of conviction that includes a sentence of imprisonment constitutes a final judgment and may not be modified by a district court except in limited circumstances." Dillon v. United States, 560 U.S. 817, 824, 130 S.Ct. 2683, 177 L.Ed.2d 271 (2010) (internal alterations omitted). "Compassionate release provides an exception" to this general rule "in extraordinary cases." United States v. Holden, No. 3:13-cr-00444-BR, 452 F.Supp.3d 964, 968, (D. Or. Apr. 6, 2020).

Prior to December 21, 2018, "the Court could only reduce a sentence of imprisonment upon a motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons[.]" United States v. Esparza, No. 1:07-cr-00294-BLW, 2020 WL 1696084, at *1 n.1 (D. Idaho Apr. 7, 2020). But on December 21, 2018, Congress enacted—and the President signed into law—the First Step Act of 2018 ("the FSA"), "with the intent of ‘increasing the use and transparency of compassionate release.’ " United States v. Willis, 382 F. Supp. 3d 1185, 1187 (D.N.M. 2019). Accordingly, the FSA now "permits defendants to bring their own motions for compassionate release after first exhausting their administrative remedies with the Bureau of Prisons." United States v. Ayon-Nunez, No. 1:16-cr-00130-DAD, 2020 WL 704785, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 12, 2020). "Although relief under the statute is commonly referred to as ‘compassionate release,’ such relief is not limited to immediate release, but includes a reduction in sentence." United States v. Marks, No. 03-cr-06033-L, 455 F.Supp.3d 17, 21 n.3, (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 20, 2020).

On January 19, 2000, the Court sentenced defendant Richard Wayne Parker ("Parker") to life imprisonment after Parker was convicted of charges related to the filing of a false tax return and the possession and distribution of cocaine. Dkt. 598. Parker now seeks relief from that sentence, pursuant to the FSA, in the form of compassionate release.

The Court held a hearing on May 21, 2020. Having carefully considered the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

A. Parker's Underlying Misconduct1
1. Parker, Ruelas, Wilcox, and Strickler Form the "Deguello" Group

In 1990, Parker, George Michael Ruelas ("Ruelas"), Michael Richard Wilcox ("Wilcox"), and James Strickler ("Strickler") formed a conspiracy to use their collective law enforcement knowledge and experience to illegally seize narcotics and related proceeds from narcotics traffickers and then profit from these seizures by selling the seized narcotics. The group called itself "Deguello." At that time, Parker was a Special Agent with the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement ("BNE"), while Wilcox and Ruelas served as California Highway Patrol ("CHP") officers, and Strickler served as a Deputy with the Pima County Sheriff's Office in Arizona. Parker and Strickler previously served together on a narcotics task force in Tucson, Arizona, where Parker and Strickler posed as undercover buyers of narcotics. Ruelas and Wilcox were former classmates at the CHP Academy. Parker and Ruelas are half-brothers.

The Deguello group thereafter began executing raids of residences belonging to suspected narcotics traffickers. During the raids, members of the Deguello group would represent that they were executing a legitimate search warrant in the pursuit of narcotics or proceeds derived from the sale of narcotics. In reality, however, participating members would seize any contraband found for the members' own benefit.

2. Parker Recruits Pitto

At the time that Parker first met Wilcox in 1986 or 1987, Wilcox was married to Monica Pitto ("Pitto"). In 1992, Parker approached Pitto about the prospect of Pitto selling a kilogram of cocaine that Parker had obtained. Parker proposed that if Pitto would sell the kilogram of cocaine on Parker's behalf, Parker would split the profits with her. Pitto agreed and successfully sold the cocaine, receiving some $7,500.00 from Parker in return.

On several other occasions, Parker, through Pitto, successfully sold narcotics to Gerhard Hensel ("Hensel"). Although Hensel was arrested in 1993, Hensel thereafter informed Pitto in 1996 that he was ready to resume distributing cocaine, prompting Pitto to contact Parker.

3. The Deguello Group Burglarizes the BNE Vault

In late 1996 or early 1997, the Deguello group identified the evidence vault at the BNE's office located in Riverside, California ("the BNE vault") as a potential target for the group's theft-related activities. Ruelas, Parker, and Wilcox subsequently met in person on several occasions to plan and prepare to seize narcotics from the BNE vault, settling on July 4, 1997, as the scheduled date of the proposed burglary. For example, in June 1997, Ruelas, Parker, and Wilcox purchased equipment to be used in the burglary including a hydraulic door spreader, two-way radios, and alligator clips. In his position as a BNE Special Agent, Parker served as a back-up evidence custodian for the BNE's Riverside Office, and the BNE provided Parker with a key and the alarm codes to the BNE vault. Pursuant to the plan, Parker provided his key and the alarm codes to the BNE vault to Ruelas and Wilcox so that Ruelas and Wilcox could gain access to the BNE vault.

On July 4, 1997, Ruelas and Wilcox arrived at the BNE's office in Riverside, California. Ruelas entered the BNE's office, while Wilcox served as the "lookout" in a rented automobile. Ruelas loaded several duffel bags with cocaine stored in the BNE vault and carried them to the car, and the pair then departed for a hotel room. Ruelas and Wilcox returned to the BNE's Riverside office several hours later, and Ruelas again removed additional quantities of cocaine from the BNE vault, placing the cocaine in duffel bags.

Wilcox subsequently stored the cocaine at a friend's residence in Fresno, California. In all, Ruelas and Wilcox removed some 295 kilograms of cocaine from the BNE vault.

4. Parker Distributes the Cocaine Taken from the BNE Vault

Parker and Ruelas periodically telephoned Wilcox, instructing Wilcox to prepare the cocaine for pick up. Ruelas or Parker would then travel to Fresno to pick up the cocaine. Parker supplied the cocaine to Pitto, who in turn sold the cocaine to Hensel. In addition, Pitto and Parker began supplying the cocaine to Christine Whitney ("Whitney"), who in turn sold the cocaine to other buyers.

5. FBI Agents Arrest Parker

In May 1998, Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") agents arrested Hensel in an unrelated investigation. During that investigation, agents discovered cocaine that Hensel purchased from Pitto. Hensel cooperated with the government, agreeing to make monitored calls to Pitto to arrange for the purchase of additional quantities of cocaine.

During one such transaction on July 2, 1998, Pitto indicated to Hensel that Pitto would soon be meeting with Pitto's supplier. Agents followed Pitto to the rooftop of a parking garage, where Pitto provided Parker with an envelope containing cash. Agents then apprehended Pitto and Parker, placing them under arrest. While searching Parker's vehicle, agents discovered firearms, ammunition, and large sums of cash. During a post-arrest search of Parker's residence, agents found additional sums of money.

B. Parker's Indictment, Conviction, and Appeal

On March 25, 1999, a federal grand jury returned a third superseding indictment, charging Parker with eight counts, including: (1) conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1) ; (2) possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) ; (3) subscribing a false name on a tax return, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1) ; and (4) money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957. Dkt. 257. Trial commenced on April 20, 1999, and the jury returned its verdict on June 25, 1999. Dkts. 319, 414. The jury convicted Parker of subscribing to a false tax return, but acquitted Parker of the money laundering charge and two counts related to possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. The jury was unable to reach a verdict as to the remaining conspiracy and possession counts, and the Court declared a mistrial on those counts, ordering a retrial. Dkt. 412. The retrial commenced on October 6, 1999. Dkt. 549. On October 21, 1999, the jury returned its verdict, convicting Parker of each of the four remaining counts. Dkt. 578.

On January 19, 2000, the Court sentenced Parker to, inter alia , life imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Dkt. 598. The Court imposed a life sentence because of three enhancements pursuant to the-then binding United States Sentencing Guidelines: (1) a two-level increase for possession of a dangerous weapon; (2) a four-level increase for being "an organizer or leader of a criminal activity that involved five or more participants"; and (3) a two-level increase for abuse of a position of trust.2

Parker thereafter appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Dkt. 600. The Ninth Circuit affirmed Parker's conviction on August 1, 2001.3 See United States v. Parker, 16 F. App'x 682 (9th Cir. 2001).

C. Ruelas' Indictment, Trial, Appeal, and Release

Following Parker's indictment, the government continued its investigation into the Deguello group's activities. A federal grand jury returned an indictment against Ruelas in December 1999. See United...

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