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United States v. Rodriguez

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 19, 2015

UNITED STATES,
v.
STANLEY RODRIGUEZ Criminal Action No. 07-709

MEMORANDUM

JAN E. DuBOIS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On October 15, 2009, defendant Stanley Rodriguez was convicted of one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841, and one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine near a school in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 860. Rodriguez was thereafter sentenced, inter alia, to 120 months imprisonment and 8 years of supervised release. Presently before the Court are two Motions filed by Rodriguez: (1) a Motion for New Trial Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 ("Rule 33 Motion"); and (2) in the alternative, a Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody ("§ 2255 Motion").[1] The Motions arise out of purported newly discovered evidence that five Philadelphia police officers who were involved in Rodriguez's arrest, and two of the five witnesses who testified at his trial, have since been indicted on federal corruption charges involving racketeering, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing.

For the reasons set forth below, the Motions are denied without an evidentiary hearing.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Rodriguez's Trial

On November 14, 2007, a Grand Jury in this District returned a two-count Indictment charging Rodriguez with the following crimes: Count One - possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841; and Count Two - possession with intent to distribute cocaine near a school in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 860. On April 10, 2008, the Government filed an Information pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851, to establish for the record that Rodriguez had a prior conviction for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. The filing of the Information resulted in increased punishment - a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 7.); see 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 851.

Rodriguez's three-day trial began on October 13, 2009. The Government called five witnesses, all of whom were members of the Philadelphia Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit at the time: Officers Perry Betts; Sean O'Malley; Brian Reynolds; Robert Billips; and Sergeant Joseph McCloskey.

Officers Betts and O'Malley testified that, on September 9, 2007, while on patrol in an unmarked car in North Philadelphia, they observed Rodriguez conversing with the driver of a Toyota Camry, which was double-parked in the driving lane. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 2; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 7-8.) Officers Betts and O'Malley testified that they watched as Rodriguez reached into the driver's side of a Mercury Grand Marquis that was parked on the side of street and retrieved a black book bag. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 3; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 7-8.) Rodriguez then handed the book bag to the driver of the Camry, who reached into the back seat of the car, retrieved two plastic-covered, brick-shaped objects, placed them in the bag, and returned the bag to Rodriguez. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 3; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 8-9.) As Rodriguez began to walk away, he was alerted to the presence of Officers Betts, O'Malley, and Norman[2] by a bystander, and Rodriguez began to flee. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 3; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 8-9.) Officers Betts, O'Malley, and Norman gave chase. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 3; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 8-9.) Before Rodriguez was apprehended, Officer O'Malley observed him toss the book bag onto the roof of a garage at 3520 North A Street, where it was later recovered by Officer Reynolds with the assistance of Officers Norman, Thomas Liciardello, and Jeffrey Walker. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 3-5; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 10-12.) Officer O'Malley was also present but did not personally retrieve the book bag from the roof. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 3-5; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 10-12.) Officer Billips testified that he and Officer Margaret McGrory were called to the scene to canvass the area for the driver of the Camry, but they were unsuccessful in locating the vehicle. (Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 11.) Sergeant McCloskey, the supervisor of the Narcotics Field Unit, testified that he was summoned to the scene and arrived after the book bag was recovered from the roof of the garage. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 6.) Subsequent laboratory testing confirmed that the book bag contained two kilograms of cocaine. The scene of the crime was within 1, 000 feet of the Cramp School at 3449 North Mascher Street (K-6) and of the St. Hugh of Cluny School at Mascher and Tioga Streets (K-8).

Rodriguez did not present any evidence at trial. His trial strategy consisted of attacking the credibility of the officers' story through cross-examination and closing argument. (Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 13.)

At the conclusion of the trial on October 15, 2009, the jury convicted Rodriguez on both counts of the Indictment. On October 13, 2010, the Court sentenced Rodriguez, inter alia, to the mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months imprisonment and sixteen years of supervised release.

B. Direct Appeal

Rodriguez raised two issues on direct appeal: (1) a claim under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), that the Government violated his due process rights by failing to produce Internal Affairs Department ("IAD") files relating to the officers of the Narcotics Field Unit who were involved in his arrest; and (2) a challenge to the Court's calculation of the mandatory minimum term of supervised release.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed Rodriguez's conviction, but remanded for resentencing after concluding that this Court had inadvertently miscalculated the mandatory minimum term of supervised release.[3] See United States v. Rodriguez, 489 F.Appx. 528, 531 (3d Cir. 2012). In rejecting Rodriguez's Brady claim, the Third Circuit concluded that the only relevant IAD files pertained to open investigations against Officers Betts and O'Malley, and that Rodriguez had failed to make a plausible showing that those files contained Brady material because the allegations in the IAD complaints "were too remote from the facts of this case to significantly undermine the officers' credibility." Id. at 531. The Third Circuit further concluded that the evidence at issue was not material under Brady. Id.

C. Alleged Newly Discovered Evidence

On December 3, 2012, the District Attorney of Philadelphia, R. Seth Williams, sent a letter to Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsay informing him that the District Attorney's Office would no longer rely on the testimony of six Philadelphia police officers in narcotics cases: Officers Betts, Reynolds, Liciardello, Michael Spicer, John Speiser, and Lieutenant Robert Otto. (Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 15-16.) Of those officers, only Betts, Reynolds, and Liciardello were involved in Rodriguez's arrest. The letter did not state a basis for the decision, but it was "widely reported [by the news media]... that the DA's Office had determined that the officers' credibility [had been] badly damaged." (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 10-11.)

Officer Walker, who was marginally involved in Rodriguez's arrest, [4] was not mentioned in District Attorney Williams' December 3, 2012 letter, but following an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"), he was arrested and indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for attempted robbery and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 12; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 17.) Walker was charged with planting drugs on a suspect in order to set him up for a false arrest so Walker could later rob him of money and drugs. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 12; Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 17.) Walker plead guilty to the charges on February 24, 2014, and is currently awaiting sentencing. See United States v. Walker, No. 13-331 (E.D. Pa. filed June 20, 2013).

Thereafter, on July 29, 2014, Officers Betts, Reynolds, Liciardello, Spicer, Speiser, and Norman were arrested and indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on various corruption charges involving racketeering, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and drug dealing. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Request for Discovery 3 n.1.) Walker was the principal cooperator against them. (Id. 6 n.3.) The Indictment charges that the former officers' illicit scheme lasted from February 2006 through November 2012. See United States v. Liciardello et al., No. 14-412 (E.D. Pa. filed July 29, 2014). Only two of the alleged overt acts charged in the Indictment predate September 9, 2007, the date of Rodriguez's arrest. See id. Officers Betts, Reynolds, Liciardello, Spicer, Speiser, and Norman have plead not guilty to the charges. Their trial began on March 16, 2015. See id.

Rodriguez filed the instant Motions pursuant to Rule 33 and § 2255 based on this "newly discovered evidence" of police corruption. According to Rodriguez, the evidence demonstrates that five of the officers who were involved in his arrest (Betts, Reynolds, Liciardello, Norman, and Walker), and two of the five witnesses who testified against him at trial (Betts and Reynolds), have now been "wholly discredited." (Def.'s Rule 33 Mot. 21.)

III. DISCUSSION

In his Rule 33 Motion, Rodriguez argues that he is entitled to a new trial based on the alleged newly discovered evidence of police corruption. Rodriguez further argues that the Government has violated his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland by failing to turn over IAD files relating to the officers involved in his arrest. Rodriguez has also requested extensive discovery from the Government in connection with his motion for a new trial. In the alternative, Rodriguez has filed a Motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 ...


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