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December 28, 1979


The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEAHER


Following a three-day evidentiary hearing and denial of his motion to suppress various items of evidence, defendant pleaded guilty to a one count indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute quantities of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 846. He reserved his right to challenge the court's denial of his motion pursuant to procedure approved in cases such as United States v. Vasquez, 612 F.2d 1338, 1339, n. 2 (2 Cir., November 30, 1979); United States v. Vasquez-Santiago, 602 F.2d 1069, 1070 n. 2 (2 Cir. 1979); United States v. Price, 599 F.2d 494, 496 n. 1 (2 Cir. 1979). The following constitutes the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law on the motion to suppress.

 Acting on information provided by a confidential informant whose reliability had been tested, DEA agents in a joint effort with State authorities began investigation of an allegedly large scale cocaine ring operating in the Queens area. The organization was reported to be highly sophisticated in its use of "stash locations" for money and cocaine, electronic beeper systems and new cars with switched license plates. One such vehicle was specifically identified by the informant as a red Chevrolet bearing a license number 757-JKB.

 On September 25, 1978, the agents received information from their informant (allegedly employed by the drug ring itself) that a cocaine transaction would occur later in the day at a location in the vicinity of 67th Avenue and Queens Boulevard. Nelson Gomez was arrested that day in possession of a brown paper bag containing approximately one kilogram of cocaine, after meeting with a man who met him in a new red Chevrolet bearing license number 916-IAX. The agents attempted but were unable to keep the vehicle under surveillance.

 Further investigation revealed that a red Chevrolet bearing license number 573-FEJ and apparently belonging to an "Antonio Villa" was the car whose vehicle identification number matched that of the Chevrolet previously bearing license 916-IAX, which was involved in the foregoing narcotics transaction. Agents observed the car parked at 108-50 62nd Drive, Queens, in an underground parking space, which belonged to the occupant of apartment 5E, "Antonio Villa." The superintendent of the building later identified "Villa" from a photograph the agents knew to be that of Victor Crespo, a reputed "kingpin" of the Queens cocaine traffic.

 On October 6, 1978, the agents observed a blue Buick with license plate number 609-HZC in front of 108-50 62nd Drive. Investigation disclosed that license number 573-FEJ was issued to the blue Buick although it was then on the red Chevrolet parked in the garage at 108-50 62nd Drive. Surveillance of the blue Buick between October 4 and 12, 1978, led the agents to believe that it was being used in a series of narcotics transactions and, on the 12th of October, two individuals, Edgar Lopez Cardona and Gustavo Ceballos, were arrested at 85-25 68th Road in Queens. The agents discovered in apartment 4-G at that address over $ 127,000 in currency, an arsenal of weapons, five pounds of cocaine and various records. The superintendent of that building identified a picture of Victor Crespo as looking like the man who rented the apartment.

 At approximately the same time, Theodoro Hernandez was arrested. He had been one of the men identified as participating in the transactions that occurred during surveillance of the blue Buick. Agents seized a small red book with notations, among them a number, "VIPER 556-9612," which recorded voice-activated beeper messages.

 The following day, October 13, 1978, the agents attempted to locate the last man identified as a result of surveillance of the Buick. At apartment 2G of 99-44 62nd Avenue, Queens, thought to be occupied by a male identified as "Shorty," the agents discovered a small quantity of cocaine and two kilograms of cutting materials. The management of the building identified a picture of Victor Crespo as the man who rented the apartment.

 Defendant first entered the scene a few days earlier, although Detective Robert Johnson testified that Patino's name first turned up in the investigation after the arrest of Gomez on September 25, 1978. On October 10, 1978, the agents observed defendant driving a red Chevrolet bearing license number 757-JKB in the vicinity of 108-50 62nd Drive in Rego Park, Queens, both the car and the address being already associated with the investigation through information provided by the confidential informant. Defendant drove in an evasive manner to La Guardia Airport, went to the Sheraton Hotel, wore a voice-activated beeper in his belt and finally proceeded to Corona where he entered an automobile repair shop called Enfa Auto Repairs.

 At the garage defendant was observed opening the trunk of another red Chevrolet bearing license number 916-IAX, identified as being used during a narcotics transaction on September 25, 1978. He returned to his own vehicle and drove to a travel agency in Queens, Cupido Travel, later asserted to be his place of employment. While defendant remained inside the agency, another male drove his vehicle, license 757-JKB, away and returned 30 minutes later. Patino promptly walked out of the agency and proceeded to 85th Street where he met Alonzo Isaza-Zapata. They next met another man, Helder Victoria Pulgarin, who removed a brown manila envelope from the trunk of a Volkswagon and handed the envelope to defendant. All three men drove back to the vicinity of Cupido Travel. Patino went to the trunk of his car, 757-JKB, removed a brown bag, handed it to Isaza, who then drove away with Victoria. The agents followed Isaza and Victoria and arrested them shortly thereafter in possession of a number of weapons subsequently found to have been stolen from an interstate shipment. Also found were various documents in Victoria's possession, which included a list of numbers, among them "VIPER 556-9612," the same number found upon the earlier arrest of Hernandez, and the number "FER 441-0959," listed to Fernando Carmona at 85-31 120th Street, Queens, apartment 4F.

 On January 15, 1979, agents of the DEA observed defendant at the International Arrivals Building at JFK Airport. There he met a man and a woman arriving on a flight from Colombia. The agents recognized the male as Victor Crespo, although this was not the name he gave the agents upon questioning.

 On February 1, 1979, agents again observed Patino and Crespo, this time at 175-20 Wexford Terrace. Patino and Crespo entered a car and Patino drove to Farmingdale Airport, from which they departed on a charter aircraft. On their return, Patino drove Crespo back to Wexford Terrace.

 Patino was next observed on February 2, 1979, when he delivered dry cleaned clothes to apartment 15X, 175-20 Wexford Terrace, which had been rented to Crespo and his wife in September 1978. Patino then drove his vehicle in front of the building and picked up Victor Crespo. They proceeded to an address on 120th Street and picked up a third male, identified as Fernando Carmona, who had been previously linked to the cocaine organization (Carmona's telephone number was found upon the arrest of Victoria on October 10, 1978). Carmona and Crespo then purchased tickets for a Delta Airlines flight.

 Investigation beginning in April 1979 led the agents to interview the management of an apartment building at 41-40 Union Street. Apartment 11F was leased to a Yolima and Gaston Charles, whose lease application disclosed an association with a jewelry shop linked to a woman suspected of being a major cocaine trafficker, Irma Mejia. Analysis of telephone records at the number listed at 41-40 Union Street reflected numbers also called by the occupants of apartment 15X, 175-20 Wexford Terrace.

 On July 10, 1979, Detective Robinson of the New York City police interviewed the superintendent at 41-40 Union Street. He was advised that the superintendent had not seen anyone in or about apartment 11F for some time. According to Detective Robinson, the superintendent offered to knock to see if anyone was occupying the apartment. After the superintendent opened the door, Robinson looked inside and observed on the dining room table a machine, which he recognized as one for detecting counterfeit money, an adding machine and various other items consistent with illegal activity. He then entered the living room, examined some ...

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