United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Barry Fischer, U.S. District Judge.
matter is before the Court on a dispute involving the
Government's requested forfeiture of 405 Zara Street,
which is the residence of husband/wife codefendants Lance and
Lasean Gardenhire. (Docket Nos. 2667; 2706). The Government
seeks complete forfeiture of the residence; while Defendants
maintain that the property should be partially forfeited.
(Id.). The parties submitted briefs and exhibits on
August 14, 2017, the Government filed its response on August
17, 2017 and Defendants' response was filed on August 18,
2017. (Docket Nos. 2568; 2569; 2578; 2584). The Court held a
hearing on August 21, 2017 at which time it heard witness
testimony and accepted documentary evidence; the transcript
of such proceedings was filed of record on August 31, 2017.
(Docket Nos. 2585; 2617). The parties subsequently filed
proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on October
2, 2017 and October 20, 2017. (Docket Nos. 2667; 2706). After
careful consideration of the parties' arguments in light
of the credible evidence of record, the Court will enter an
in personam forfeiture order against the Gardenhires,
forfeiting the entirety of both of their respective rights,
title and interests in 405 Zara Street to the Government.
Guilty Pleas/Admitted Criminal Conduct/Undisputed
day set for jury selection and trial of this matter, April
24, 2017, Lance pled guilty to Count One of the Superseding
Indictment at Criminal Number 15-87, i.e., one count of
conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to
distribute 1 kilogram or more of heroin, contrary to the
provisions of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), and
841(b)(1)(A)(i), and in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846,
from March 2012 through May 21, 2015 and to Count Three of
the Superseding Indictment, i.e., one count of conspiracy to
commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 1956(h) and (a)(1)(B)(i), also from March 2012
through May 21, 2015. (Docket No. 2272). Lasean likewise pled
guilty to the money laundering conspiracy charge at Count
Three. (Docket No. 2263). Both had plea agreements with the
Government which enabled them to bring the instant challenge
to the forfeiture of their interests in 405 Zara Street.
August 30, 2017, Lance was sentenced to 240 months'
incarceration and 10 years' supervised release pursuant
to his Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreement with the Government.
(Docket No. 2609). He was also ordered to pay a $200 special
assessment and to forfeit five vehicles, i.e., a 2008
Infinity QX56; a 2008 Mercedes Benz GL450; a 2005 Mercedes
Benz C230; a 2009 Mercedes Benz S550; and a 2007 Nissan
Titan. (Docket Nos. 2609; 2652). Lasean was sentenced to 8
months' incarceration, to be followed by three years of
supervised release. (Docket Nos. 2611; 2634). She was ordered
to pay a $100 special assessment and to forfeit her interest
in four vehicles, which were all of the vehicles her husband
agreed to forfeit except for the 2009 Mercedes Benz S550.
(Docket Nos. 2611; 2634; 2652). It appears that Mrs.
Gardenhire has retained the 2009 Mercedes Benz S550. In
addition, a subsequent Order was entered authorizing the U.S.
Marshal Service to sell the 2008 Mercedes Benz GL450 and to
disburse the gross proceeds from the sale up to $3, 503.05 to
Team Rahal of Steel City, Inc. (Docket No. 2710).
undisputed that Lance Gardenhire was the leader of the Lance
Gardenhire Drug Trafficking Organization
(“Organization”) and served as the main wholesale
supplier of heroin which he imported from his New Jersey
source of supply to be further distributed by other members
of the Organization throughout the Pittsburgh area. (Docket
No. 2499 at ¶¶ 9-13). The parties stipulated that
Lance was criminally responsible for the distribution of
between 30 and 90 kilograms of heroin for guidelines
purposes. (Id.). The factual basis of the offense
conduct set forth in Lance's Presentence Investigation
Report, (“PIR”) to which no objections were
lodged by the parties, makes clear that this was a cash
11. Lance Gardenhire and Corey Cheatom
worked together to secure multi-kilogram shipments of heroin
from New Jersey. They received the heroin shipments on a
regular basis, sometimes as often as every week or two. They
paid drivers to transport hundreds of thousands of dollars of
heroin trafficking proceeds to their source of supply in New
Jersey, and then the drivers returned to Pittsburgh with
multiple kilogram quantities of heroin. On August 2, 2014,
one of the Organization's drivers was apprehended on his
way back from New Jersey with 2, 400 bricks of the
Organization's heroin. The quantity of heroin in the
bricks exceeded 2 kilograms.
12. After the heroin arrived in Pittsburgh from out-of-state,
Lance Gardenhire and Cheatom relied upon the
other distributors for the Organization to turn the bricks of
heroin into cash. They provided hundreds of bricks of heroin
at a time to their distributors on credit and received
payment after the heroin was further distributed throughout
(Docket No. 2499 at ¶¶ 11-12). With respect to his
money laundering activities, Lance admitted to conspiring
with his wife and “filter[ing] thousands of dollars of
[his] heroin trafficking proceeds through Lasean
Gardenhire's bank accounts at federally insured banks
that were engaged in interstate commerce.”
(Id. at ¶ 13). Lasean similarly admitted to
conspiring with her husband to commit money laundering and
that drug proceeds generated by Lance's heroin dealing
were funneled through her various bank accounts, with such
funds being used to pay their various expenses. (Docket No.
2501 at ¶¶ 6-9).
Summary of Evidence Presented at Hearing
August 21, 2017 hearing, the Government presented the
testimony of codefendant Juan Wysong and Special Agent Sean
Currie of the Drug Enforcement Administration, both of whom
the Court found to be credible witnesses. (Docket Nos. 2585;
2617). To this end, Wysong generally detailed his heroin
trafficking activities with Lance and other members of the
Organization from 2012-2015. (Docket No. 2617 at 12-77).
Special Agent Currie, who reported having 18 years of law
enforcement experience, and was one of the case agents for
this prosecution, explained his investigation of the
Gardenhires' finances and other activities. (Id.
at 79-155). The Government also admitted a number of exhibits
supporting its position in this matter. (Govt. Exs. G2; J8;
J36-J42; G43-G44; J45-J50; G51; J52; Govt. Demos 1-3). In
opposition, the Defendants called Lasean's mother, Leslie
Nunley; Lance's father, R. Gardenhire Bey; and a friend,
Charles Edward Whitehead Timbers, III and also admitted a few
photographs as exhibits. (Docket No. 2617 at 156-214; Def.
Exs. 1-2). The Court found these witnesses to be generally
credible to the extent that they explained the renovations
conducted at 405 Zara Street; however, it does not credit
certain of Nunley's testimony concerning the source of
funds which were allegedly gifted to the Gardenhires as such
testimony was not credibly supported by the other evidence of
record and for other reasons more fully described herein.
See e.g., United States v. Smith, 751 F.3d 107,
116-17 (3d Cir. 2014) (reliable hearsay statements from a
credible third party declarant may be relied upon by court at
sentencing). Finally, the Government now moves to admit
Nunley's bank records as exhibits in this proceeding.
(See Nunley Bank Statements July-December
2012; Docket Nos. 2617 at 182-83; 2667; 2706). No
opposition to same having been lodged by Defendants, the
Court will admit these records into these proceedings, and
The Gardenhires' Income and Expenditures During
and Lasean have been in a romantic relationship since 1998
and were married on July 14, 2012. (Docket Nos. 2499; 2501).
At the time of their marriage, the couple had two children;
they subsequently had two additional children for a total of
four children. (Docket No. 2706). In 2010, Lance and
Lasean were indicted together in this district at Criminal
Number 10-47. See United States v. Lance Gardenhire and
Lasean Nunley, Crim. No. 10-47 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 23, 2010).
That case was dismissed after the Hon. David S. Cercone
issued an Opinion suppressing evidence. (Crim. No. 10-47 at
Docket Nos. 90; 95).
in September of 2011, Lasean worked as a customer service
representative for Duquesne Light. (Docket No. 2617 at 92).
She was terminated from this position after she pled guilty
to conspiracy to commit money laundering in April of 2017 in
this case. (Id.). Special Agent Currie's
financial investigation revealed that Duquesne Light paid
Lasean her wages via direct deposit into one of her bank
accounts. (Id. at 92-3). Lasean earned W2 income
from Duquesne Light in the following amounts: $23, 323 in
2012; $37, 678 in 2013; and $57, 619 in 2014. (Id.).
Special Agent Currie found no evidence that Lasean was paid
cash by Duquesne Light for her work. (Id. at 92).
2011-2015, Lasean maintained at least four bank accounts at
two different financial institutions, PNC and Allegheny
Valley Bank. (Docket No. 2617 at 85). She also owned a
three-bedroom home at 2326 Vodeli Street, which was subject
to a mortgage held by Wells Fargo Bank. (Id. at
98-99, 169). Lasean fell behind on said payments and in late
2011, she entered into an emergency home loan program for
homeowners who could not make their mortgage payments with
the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority,
(“PHFA”). (Id. at 98-99; Govt. Ex. G44).
Through this program, the PHFA paid Lasean's arrears of
nearly $3, 000 to Wells Fargo and made future payments
totaling approximately $8, 000 which included paying the
mortgage on 2326 Vodeli Street throughout 2012.
(Id.). Her mother, Nunley, testified that she was
neither aware that Lasean was involved in this program nor
that her mortgage was being paid by PHFA. (Id. at
169-70). Nunley acknowledged, however, that the Gardenhires
were in a difficult position financially in 2011-2012.
(Id. at 170).
was in pretrial custody during the proceedings at Criminal
Number 10-47 and ultimately released in May of 2012. (Docket
No. 2617 at 82). Lance had no legitimate income while he was
incarcerated. He also did not file a tax return for the 2011
tax year. (Id. at 86). As is noted in further detail
below, there is no credible evidence in the record
demonstrating that Lance generated income through legitimate
employment during 2012 through 2015.
contrary, the evidence presented to the Court establishes
that starting in July of 2012, Lance generated significant
amounts of cash through heroin trafficking. In this regard,
Wysong explained that he and Lance had been friends since
2006, at which time they sold cocaine together, among other
things. (Docket No. 2617 at 65). Wysong testified that when
Lance was released from custody, he was “completely
broke” and had an outstanding debt of $30, 000 to his
New Jersey-based heroin supplier from past dealings.
(Id. at 14-16). Wysong and Lance agreed to start a
“business venture” selling heroin together using
Lance's source starting in July of 2012. (Id. at
13). Since Lance had no money, Wysong provided $10, 000 to
pay off the outstanding debt to the supplier and paid an
additional $12, 000 to buy the first 100 bricks of heroin
which they then sold together. (Id. at 13-14). They
drove to New Jersey to close this deal around the 2012 Fourth
of July holiday. (Id. at 14-15). Wysong noted that
he and Lance started out making these types of heroin supply
trips to New Jersey a few times a month and then others would
join in and they would make these trips more often.
(Id. at 43-44). He explained that their operation
started out slow and then picked up toward the end of 2012.
(Id. at 44). Lance, Wysong and/or others continued
to make similar trips several times a month until the
conspiracy ended in 2015. (Id. at 16-17). For
example, he provided details of a supply trip taken in
January of 2015 at which time he was present in a hotel room
with Lance, Lasean and Cheatom and observed at least a few
hundred thousand dollars being counted which was later used
to purchase heroin. (Id. at 17-24). Naturally, these
narcotics trafficking activities generated substantial
amounts of cash for the participants, including Lance.
contrast, there was no credible evidence introduced at the
hearing demonstrating that Lance earned income from
legitimate employment during the period of 2012-2015. To this
end, Special Agent Currie testified that he was unable to
find any legal sources of income for Lance during that
timeframe. (Docket No. 2617 at 30, 94). At most, Lance's
individual tax return filed for tax year 2012 and his joint
return filed with Lasean for tax year 2013 denote income
Lance allegedly earned for work at Headlinz Male Grooming
Lounge and Freelance Entertainment and claimed expenses
related to the operation of those entities. (Id. at
85-86; Govt. Ex. J39). However, Special Agent Currie was not
able to verify this income or that these were legitimate
businesses. (Docket No. 2617 at 30, 94). He told the Court
that the tax preparer, Jonnet Solomon, did not produce any
receipts or any other documents in support of the claimed
income or expenses in response to a subpoena. (Id.
at 87-88; 131-33). Further, the search warrants executed at
the Gardenhires' properties did not result in the
seizures of any records related to these businesses.
(Id.). Moreover, Lance also did not file a tax
return for the 2014 tax year. (Id. at 87).
respect to the alleged barber business, Special Agent Currie
determined that Lance's barber license had expired in
2008, (Id. at 94-95); he found no evidence of barber
equipment at the residences, (id. at 95-96); and his
review of the bank records showed only $200 in total charges
to a beauty supply store from 2012-2015, (id.). In
addition, Wysong and Lance's father, Bey, testified that
they did not observe Lance cutting hair for profit and each
acknowledged that Lance had cut their own hair for free on
occasion. (Id. at 30-31; 201). Similarly, the
alleged concert promotion income could not be verified by
Special Agent Currie because the owner of Groove Productions
advised that Lance had done only “pro bono” work
to promote an event and the financial investigation located
one check to Lance for a few thousand dollars, which Special
Agent Currie noted was “unremarkable” relative to
the amount of cash deposits and cash transactions that were
made by the Gardenhires. (Id. at 96-97). Special
Agent Currie also investigated other potential sources of
income for Lance and found that he was accepted for an
apprenticeship program with Local Carpenters Union 213 but
was terminated in 2009 due to excessive absences from work.
(Id. at 98). In response, Defendants offered no
additional evidence showing that Lance worked legitimately.