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United States v. 10131 Grape Court

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 16, 2020

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
10131 GRAPE COURT, THORNTON, COLORADO, 9849 JASPER STREET, COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO, $118, 955.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, $40, 030.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, 2017 GMC SIERRA DENALI 2500, VIN 1GT12UEY3HF104690, $10, 000.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY SEIZED FROM JONATHAN MARTINEZ, $10, 000.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY SEIZED FROM MARCOS RAMIREZ, $264.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, $24, 500.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, $4, 563.00 IN UNITED STATES CURRENCY, MEN'S ROLEX WATCH, 2011 PETERBILT 386 SEMI-TRACTOR, $6, 378.75 SEIZED FROM U.S. BANK ACCOUNT NO. 103683996278, and $45, 716.28 FUNDS SEIZED FROM WELLS FARGO BANK ACCOUNT NO. 7701126034, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.

         The United States instituted this action for forfeiture in rem pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881 on March 26, 2018, seeking the forfeiture of two real properties alleged to be used in violation of federal narcotics law. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF 1. On July 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint seeking the forfeiture of additional property alleged to be used in an operation to supply “large amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription pain narcotics in the North Denver Metro Area.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6, ECF 20. Currently before the Court is the United States' Motion for Default and Final Order of Forfeiture (ECF 50), in which Plaintiff seeks a default judgment against the following defendant properties: $118, 955.00 in United States currency; $40, 030.00 in United States currency; $10, 000.00 in United States currency seized from Jonathan Martinez; $10, 000.00 in United States currency seized from Marcos Ramirez; $264.00 in United States currency; and $24, 500.00 in United States currency. For the reasons below, the Court grants the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Verified Amended Complaint. Plaintiff, the United States, instituted this action for forfeiture in rem, seeking forfeiture of the defendant properties based on violations of the narcotics provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq. Plaintiff alleges that in June 2017, Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) agents began investigating Heather Knoll, Richard Martinez, and others, as members of a possible drug trafficking enterprise in Northern Colorado. Ms. Knoll was identified as a mid-level poly-drug supplier and bulk currency smuggler; Mr. Martinez was identified as Ms. Knoll's boss and a “source of supply” of large amounts of narcotics.

         On November 11, 2017, officers observed Ms. Knoll drive to a Comfort Inn, located at 670 Eagleridge Boulevard, Pueblo, Colorado, and park her 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Another vehicle pulled up adjacent to Ms. Knoll's. Ms. Knoll then exited her vehicle and handed a small, green lunchbox to the driver of the other car, who handed her a plastic, “grocery type” bag, described by investigators as “decently full.” Ms. Knoll got back into her Jeep and drove away from the location, entering onto Interstate 25. Shortly after, Pueblo Police K-9 Detective Vincent Petkosek conducted a traffic stop on Ms. Knoll. During the stop, Detective Petkosek deployed his K-9 partner, named Widget, who alerted to the odor of narcotics emitting from Ms. Knoll's Jeep. After Ms. Knoll refused permission to search the interior of the vehicle, Detective Petkosek seized the 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee pursuant to probable cause. During a search of the Jeep, investigators located fifteen pounds of marijuana inside two suitcases and found Defendant $118, 955.00 in United States currency in an “extremely well made and complex” hidden compartment in the backseat of the vehicle.

         On January 25, 2018, Richard Martinez received a call from an individual, later identified as Everardo Nunez-Gutierrez, discussing Ms. Knoll, who was driving a truck from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Denver, Colorado. Mr. Nunez-Gutierrez told Mr. Martinez that the “truck was ready” and that he could not follow Mrs. Knoll back to Colorado because he was on his way to Chicago to drop the rest of the “paper.” Plaintiff alleges that “paper” means proceeds from the sale of narcotics.

         The next day, Colorado State Police Trooper Ryan Cox observed two vehicles traveling near speeds of eighty miles per hour and observed Defendant 2017 GMC Sierra Denali tailgating closely to another vehicle. Trooper Cox pulled over Defendant 2017 GMC Sierra Denali, which was driven by Ms. Knoll. During the interview following her traffic stop, Ms. Knoll indicated the vehicle she was driving, and occupied alone, belonged to her cousin Richard Martinez. After obtaining consent to run his K-9, named Cain, through and around the vehicle, CSP K-9 Cain alerted to the rear center-seat area of the vehicle's interior. Based his previous experience and on an examination of the blots and area surrounding the rear seat, Trooper Cox believed the read seat had been modified. On January 29, 2018, pursuant to a state search warrant, DEA and Colorado Springs Police conducted a search of Defendant 2017 GMC Sierra Denali. They discovered a sophisticated, hidden hydraulic compartment in the same area at which CSP K-9 Cain alerted. The hidden compartment contained four clear vacuum-sealed plastic bags, containing Defendant $40, 030.00 in United States currency.

         On February 24, 2018, Richard Martinez received a telephone call from a subject later identified as Jonathan Martinez. Based on the content of the call, investigators believed that Jonathan Martinez was going to bring narcotics to Richard Martinez. On February 25, 2018, agents intercepted two calls/texts, which indicated that Jonathan Martinez met Richard Martinez at Richard's residence. That day officers also observed a Kia in the driveway of Richard Martinez's residence, which had previous been identified as a vehicle associated with narcotics transportation. The driver of the Kia was identified as Jonathan Martinez. Later that day, Richard Martinez was involved in a phone call indicating he was “short” of money for narcotics that had been taken over to his residence and that he and Jonathan Martinez would meet up the next day, on February 26, 2018, to settle the outstanding balance. On February 26, 2018, Richard Martinez received a call from Jonathan Martinez. Richard Martinez indicated he was at home and Jonathan Martinez stated he needed to “pick up those files” and that he would call “as soon as he picks them up.” Plaintiff alleges “files” means narcotics. At approximately 12:03 p.m., Jonathan Martinez sent Richard Martinez a text message indicating that he was at Richard's residence. A pole camera confirmed the presence of the Kia, previously driven by Jonathan Martinez. At 12:09 p.m., a male exited the vehicle and went into Richard Martinez's residence for a few minutes. The vehicle was then followed from the City of Thornton, Colorado to the City of Colorado Springs.

         In Colorado Springs, two El Paso County deputies conducted a traffic stop on the Kia, which was driven by Jonathan Martinez. The deputies deployed a K-9, who alerted to the presence of the odor of narcotics inside of the vehicle. A search of the Kia revealed Defendant $264.00 in United States currency in the center console. Officers also located Defendant $10, 000.00 in United States currency seized from Jonathan Martinez inside Jonathan Martinez's jacket pocket and Defendant $10, 000.00 in United States currency seized from Marcos Ramirez inside Marcos Ramirez's jacket pocket.

         On March 1, 2018, Richard Martinez communicated with a subject, “UM9236, ” who appeared to be a narcotics customer. Based on intercepted calls, it appeared Mr. Martinez would supply UM9236 with cocaine and UM9236 would pay him for this cocaine. On March 2, 2018, Mr. Martinez told UM9236 that UM9236 needed to bring payment for the narcotics transaction to Mr. Martinez's courier, Fred Tafoya, and that UM9236 could meet Mr. Tafoya in the area of the Ugly Dog Bar and Grill located at 1345 Cortez Street, Denver, Colorado. UM9236 advised Mr. Martinez that he would be driving a White Buick SUV. Mr. Martinez then contacted Mr. Tafoya, telling him to go to the Ugly Dog to pick up “around twenty-five” in narcotics proceeds. At approximately 4:00 p.m., a Black Ford F-150, driven by Mr. Tafoya, arrived in the vicinity of a White Buick SUV in the parking lot of the “Lazy Dog.”[1] Mr. Tafoya left the truck empty-handed and walked over to the Buick. After approximately one minute at the Buick, Mr. Tafoya returned to his truck with a white zip pouch in his hand and he left the area in his truck.

         A traffic stop was then conducted on the truck in Westminster, Colorado, for vehicle code violations. A consensual search of the inside of the truck located the white pouch, which had been seen in the surveillance at the Ugly Dog. Mr. Tafoya advised that he had $24, 500.00 in United States currency inside of the pouch. A K-9 sniff was conducted and the K-9 alerted to the odor of narcotics in the vehicle, specifically to the white pouch. Defendant $24, 500.00 in United States currency was seized as drug proceeds. After the currency was seized, Mr. Martinez contacted Mr. Tafoya, who told him the police took “the paperwork” and that he was not comfortable talking on his phone because the police had had it for a couple of hours. Subsequent intercepted calls between Mr. Martinez and UM9236 confirmed that narcotics proceeds were taken from Mr. Tafoya and Mr. Martinez believed UM9236 had compromised the exchange.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff commenced this action in rem pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881. Plaintiff seized the six defendant properties at issue in the present motion during searches executed prior to the commencement of this action. Plaintiff has provided all known interested parties with the opportunity to respond to the forfeiture. ECF 21. Plaintiff also filed a Notice of Publication pursuant to Rule G(4)(a)(iv)(C) of the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions. ECF 34. This Notice was published on an official government internet site for at least thirty consecutive days. See ECF 34-1. No. claim, answer, or other responsive pleading has been filed as to the following defendant assets, and the time to do so has expired: $118, 955.00 in United States currency; $40, 030.00 in United States currency; $10, 000.00 in United States currency seized from Jonathan Martinez; $10, 000.00 in United States currency seized from Marcos Ramirez; $264.00 in United States currency; and $24, 500.00 in United States currency. Based on the Verified Amended Complaint and these facts, the Clerk of the Court entered an Entry of Default as to the above-noted defendant properties on March 5, 2019. ECF 49. Plaintiff now moves for default and a final order of forfeiture as to those defendant assets.

         I. Entry of ...


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