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United States v. Santiago-Pagan

June 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Presently before the court is defendant Carlos Santiago-Pagan's motion (Doc. 93) to suppress evidence that was seized during a traffic stop on August 23, 2008. The court held an evidentiary hearing on defendant's motion on April 28, 2009, (see Doc. 160 at 1), after which defendant filed a supplemental brief in support of his position, (see Doc. 162). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. Findings of Fact*fn1

On November 19, 2008, a grand jury indicted defendant and four alleged co-conspirators on charges of criminal conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride and marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and intentional and knowing distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride and marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). (See Doc. 1.) A superseding indictment was returned on December 10, 2008, which, in addition to the counts contained in the original indictment, charged defendant with distribution, possession with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to distribute fifty or more grams of cocaine base. (See Doc. 31.) Defendant pled not guilty to the superseding indictment on January 7, 2009. (See Doc. 61.)

The investigation into defendant's involvement in narcotics trafficking originated in July 2008, when agents in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania office of the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA") initiated a court-authorized wiretap on a cellular telephone belonging to Juan Matos ("Matos").*fn2 Agent Mark O'Donnell ("O'Donnell") testified that between July 27 and July 31, 2008, agents intercepted several telephonic communications wherein Matos contacted defendant and requested a supply of marijuana or cocaine. (See Doc. 160 at 24-27.) Based in part on these intercepted communications, Harrisburg DEA agents obtained court authorization to establish a wiretap on defendant's cellular telephone.*fn3 (See id. at 30.) Defendant was thereafter overhead conversing with an individual named Hugo Soria ("Soria"), a "known drug trafficker" residing in Greensboro, North Carolina.*fn4

(See id. at 30, 85.) On August 16, 2008, Soria told defendant that he could obtain as much as ten kilograms of cocaine, provided that defendant traveled to North Carolina to purchase the narcotics. (See id. at 30-31.) Defendant indicated that he was seriously considering this option.*fn5 (See id. at 30-32.)

Defendant and Soria spoke several times on August 21, 2008. (See id. at 32.) During these conversations, Soria repeatedly emphasized that he had access to a "quantity of narcotics." (Id.) Defendant then made arrangements to meet with Soria in Greensboro in order to acquire several kilograms of cocaine. (See id. at 32-33.) On August 22, defendant began traveling south toward North Carolina in a Honda Odyssey minivan. (Id. at 33.) He was accompanied by Delilah Galan ("Galan") and indicted co-conspirators Angel Guzman ("Guzman") and Carlos Perez ("Perez"). (See id. at 38.) Harrisburg DEA agents visually surveilled the minivan until it stopped briefly in Virginia, at which time they surreptitiously affixed a GPS tracking device to the vehicle. (Id. at 33-34.) This allowed DEA to continue monitoring the Odyssey's progress from afar. (See id.)

As the minivan approached the North Carolina border, DEA agents in Harrisburg contacted their counterparts in Greensboro. (Id. at 34-35.) Harrisburg agent Eric Stouch ("Stouch") relayed to Greensboro agent William Kinghorn ("Kinghorn") the information intercepted via wiretap; that defendant was traveling to North Carolina "to acquire some cocaine"; the location and description of the Honda Odyssey; and the fact that there was a warrant outstanding for defendant's arrest.*fn6 (See id. at 35, 62.) Over the course of the following twenty-four hours, agents in Harrisburg maintained regular contact with those in Greensboro, relaying information intercepted from telephone communications between defendant and Soria. (See id. at 35-36.)

At approximately 4 a.m. on August 23, defendant and his traveling companions checked in to a Red Roof Inn in Greensboro. (See id. at 38-39.) Kinghorn and his fellow agents established visual surveillance within fifteen minutes. (Id. at 62-63.) At 8:20 a.m., Soria arrived driving a gray Chrysler 300. (See id. at 65-66.) Defendant thereafter emerged from his hotel room, entered Soria's vehicle on the passenger side, and remained seated in the passenger seat conversing with Soria for fifteen minutes. (Id. at 66.) At the conclusion of this conversation, defendant exited Soria's vehicle and returned to his hotel room; Soria then drove away. (Id. at 67.) O'Donnell testified that based upon the telephone calls exchanged between defendant and Soria around the time of this meeting, Soria was still awaiting delivery of the narcotics that he intended to sell to defendant. (See id. at 36-37.) At the time of their morning rendezvous, however, those narcotics had not yet arrived. (See id.)

Between 11 a.m. and noon, defendant, Galan, Guzman, and Perez checked out of the Red Roof Inn and in to a nearby Comfort Inn. (See id. at 69.) During the next several hours, defendant continued to speak with Soria via telephone regarding the purchase of narcotics. (See id. at 69-70.) Soria eventually contacted defendant and explained that he was unable to obtain any cocaine. (See id.) Defendant then telephoned an unknown individual and lamented that he had traveled to North Carolina to see Soria, and that he "came with the birth certificates, but the family never arrived." (Id. at 37.) According to O'Donnell, defendant was speaking in code; he traveled to Greensboro "with money to buy a quantity of narcotics, but the drugs never came." (Id.)

Defendant, Galan, Guzman, and Perez began the return drive to Pennsylvania empty-handed. (See id. at 69-70.) Shortly after leaving, however, Soria contacted defendant and stated, "I have seven people for you to work with." (Id. at 38.) O'Donnell explained that this was code meaning that Soria had obtained seven kilograms of cocaine. (See id. at 38.) Defendant then agreed to return to Greensboro to purchase the narcotics. (See id. at 71.) Harrisburg agents-who intercepted this conversation via the wiretap on defendant's telephone-relayed the information to Kinghorn. (Id.) Greensboro agents thereafter resumed visual surveillance of the Honda Odyssey, which they located at approximately 7:30 p.m., parked outside a Waffle House restaurant in Greensboro. (See id.) Fifteen minutes later, defendant and Soria spoke via telephone and arranged a meeting at a nearby McDonald's restaurant. (See id. at 72.) Agents in Harrisburg informed Kinghorn that defendant was "going to meet Hugo Soria to pick up the cocaine." (Id. at 78.)

The Greensboro agents attempted to follow the Honda Odyssey as it traveled to the meeting destination, but lost visual surveillance of the vehicle for approximately ten to fifteen minutes. (See id. at 73-74.) By the time they were able to relocate the minivan, it was parked outside of a nearby Burger King. (Id. at 73.) However, the vehicle's only occupants were Galan and Guzman; defendant and Perez were no longer inside or nearby the minivan. (See id.) Approximately twenty minutes later, defendant telephoned Guzman, requesting that Guzman drive the Odyssey to a nearby British Petroleum gas station where defendant and Perez were waiting. (See id. at 74-75.) In addition, defendant told Guzman that he "had . . . the product" and it was time "to head back north." (Id. at 78.)

Galan and Guzman drove the Odyssey to the British Petroleum station and parked near one of the gasoline pumps. (Id. at 75.) Within minutes, Perez approached the Odyssey from behind and opened the rear hatch. (Id. at 75.) Agent Billy Denney observed Perez "lift[] the rear hatch of the van and lean[] into the left rear side of the back of the van." (Id. at 82.) According to agent Denney, "it looked as if [] Perez had placed something into the van, but [I] could not see if he did or not. It looked as if he ...

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