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United States v. Santiago-Mesinas

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 14, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Jose Santiago-Mesinas's Renewed Motion to Suppress Direct and Derivative Evidence Obtained From Unlawful Searches and Seizures Based Upon Newly-Presented Evidence (the “Renewed Motion to Suppress”). (Doc. # 265.) Having fully considered the parties' arguments for and against suppression of evidence, the Court finds that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary and denies Defendant's Renewed Motion to Suppress.

         I. BACKGROUND


         The Court's October 8, 2018, Order Granting Defendant's Motion for a Separate Trial (Doc. # 252) recites the applicable factual and procedural background of this case and is incorporated herein by reference. Additional factual background and procedural history will be detailed in this Order only to the extent necessary to address the instant motion.

         This case arises out of an alleged conspiracy among sixteen defendants, including Defendant, to “knowingly and intentionally conspire to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute” various amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine between July 1, 2015, and January 1, 2018. (Doc. # 1 at 1.)

         According to the Government, the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) initiated an investigation into the drug trafficking activities of some of Defendant's former codefendants, including Omar Obeso-Gastelum, Adrian Pallanes-Lujano, and Abraham Rivera-Flores, in December 2016. (Doc. # 318 at 2-14.) From lawfully intercepted communications between the codefendants, the Government believed that a newly-purchased truck would serve as a “load vehicle” to transport twenty pounds of methamphetamine from Arizona to Colorado on April 3, 2017, and that Pallanes-Lujano would escort the load vehicle part of the way to its final destination in Aurora, Colorado. See (id.)

         On the morning of April 3, 2017, the DEA's task force officers asked a local DEA special agent, Christopher Trocola of the DEA Yuma Resident Office, to identify any vehicle potentially being escorted by Pallanes-Lujano. (Id. at 15.) DEA Special Agent Trocola observed that a maroon Chevy Avalanche with temporary Arizona license plate number 047648T was travelling in tandem with Pallanes-Lujano's vehicle. (Id.) DEA Task Force Officer Tony Collett learned that the Avalanche was registered to a Jose Santiago-Mesinas in San Luis, Arizona. (Id.) “Based on these facts, ” task force officers believed the Avalanche was the load vehicle transporting methamphetamine to Colorado. (Id. at 16.)

         That afternoon, after lawfully intercepting a phone call between Obeso-Gastelum and Pallanes-Lujano in which Obeso-Gastelum directed Pallanes-Lujano to tell the driver of the load vehicle to stop at a hotel for the night, task force officers used pen registers on those defendants' phones and observed that Pallanes-Lujano and Rivera-Flores soon thereafter called a telephone number, 760-397-6242, subscribed to a Jose Santiago at Sprint's generic mailing address. (Id. at 17.) The Government applied for and United States Magistrate Judge Michael J. Watanabe quickly issued a search warrant allowing the collection of GPS information for and the tracking of the telephone number ending in -6242 and subscribed to a Jose Santiago (the “April 3 Phone Warrant”). (Id.); see (Doc. # 233-24.)

         Task force officers continued to surveil the Avalanche in the afternoon and evening of April 3, 2017. (Doc. # 318 at 18.) They observed the Avalanche travelling northbound on I-25 outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, for example, and noted that the Avalanche's movement “positively correlated with” the GPS data then coming in from Jose Santiago's telephone number ending in -6242. (Id.) At approximately 12:40 AM on April 4, 2017, task force officers observed that the Avalanche pulled onto the shoulder of I-25 on “a deserted stretch of highway” and during “a significant snow storm” and activated its hazard lights, (id.); the Avalanche had sustained a flat tire. Task Force Officer Kristie Allen contacted Colorado State Patrol Trooper C. Baillargeon and asked him to contact the driver of the Avalanche. (Id. at 18-19.)

         Trooper Baillargeon contacted the vehicle at approximately 1:25 AM on April 4, 2017, and identified the driver as Defendant from his California driver's license. (Id. at 19.) Trooper Baillargeon had difficulty conversing with Defendant because of a language barrier; he called Task Force Officer Collett, who is conversant in Spanish, and handed his phone to Defendant. (Id.) Defendant told Task Force Officer Collett that he was coming from Yuma, Arizona, but later said he was coming from San Luis, near Phoenix, Arizona. (Id.) Defendant also told Task Force Officer Collett that he was traveling to Denver for construction work, though Trooper Baillargeon reported seeing no clothing-and specifically no construction wear-to Task Force Officer Collett. (Id.) Finally, upon Task Force Officer Collett's inquiry, Defendant stated that he thought he had bought the Avalanche from an auto company a week prior but did not remember its name. (Id.) Task Force Officer then told Defendant that the Avalanche was going to be seized for further investigation because circumstances were suspicious and that the officers planned to obtain a warrant to search the truck. (Id.) Trooper Baillargeon subsequently sealed the Avalanche and delivered it to a secure Colorado State Patrol facility. (Id. at 20.) Another Colorado State Patrol trooper took Defendant to a nearby motel. (Id. at 19.)

         Later in the morning of April 4, 2017, task force officers lawfully intercepted a phone call from Pallanes-Lujano to Obeso-Gastelum, in which Pallanes-Lujano told Obeso-Gastelum that law enforcement “came up from behind” the driver of “the vehicle, ” made him stop, and “took the car to the impound.” (Id. at 21.) Pallanes-Lujano also described how the driver of the vehicle didn't speak English, so law enforcement “called another cop” and how the driver “stayed at a hotel and then he jumped to another one.” (Id.) Obeso-Gastelum later sent a text message to Pallanes-Lujano, asking if “the work was well hidden.” (Id.) Task force officers believed that Obeso-Gastelum and Pallanes-Lujano were discussing the stop of Defendant and the seizure of the Avalanche and methamphetamine hidden within it. See (id.)

         On April 6, 2017, task force officers applied for a search warrant for the Avalanche. (Id. at 22); see (Doc. # 233-27.) Task Force Officer Allen submitted the supporting affidavit and described how the intercepted communications described above led her to “believe[] that [there was] . . . probable cause to search the [Avalanche] for drugs and to seize evidence of drug trafficking found in the [Avalanche.]” (Doc. # 233-27 at 24.) Relevant here, Task Force Officer Allen described Officer Baillargeon's and Task Force Officer Collett's conversations with Defendant when he was on the side of I-25 early in the morning of April 4, 2017:

During TFO Collett's conversation with [Defendant], [Defendant] told TFO Collett that he was traveling to Denver for construction work. Trooper Baillargeon told TFO Collett that he did not observe any clothing in the vehicle, and particularly did not see any clothing related to construction work. TFO Collett asked [Defendant] where he was coming from and [Defendant] initially said Yuma (Arizona), then later said San Luis, near Phoenix. TFO Collett asked [Defendant] if he bought the [Avalanche] from a private party or dealership. [Defendant] said he thought he bought the [Avalanche] about a week ago from an auto company but he couldn't remember the name of the company.

(Id. at 21.)

         United States Judge Michael J. Watanabe authorized the search warrant on the same day (the “April 6 Car Warrant”). (Id. at 1.)

         Pursuant to the April 6 Car Warrant, task force officers searched the Avalanche on April 6, 2017. (Doc. # 318 at 22.) A total of twenty packages of methamphetamine, totaling 25.68 pounds at 99% purity, were ...

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