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UNITED STATES v. CERTAIN

September 9, 1992

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CERTAIN REAL PROPERTY AND PREMISES KNOWN AS 63-29 TRIMBLE ROAD, WOODSIDE, NEW YORK. Defendant.


GLASSER


The opinion of the court was delivered by: I. LEO GLASSER

GLASSER, United States District Judge:

 This forfeiture action was brought pursuant to section 881(a)(7) of Title 21, United States Code, against the defendant premises. The complaint alleges that the premises, owned by claimants Juan Carlos Aldeco and Betty Aldeco, were used to facilitate trafficking in cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยง 841 et seq. For the reasons indicated below in the findings of fact and conclusions of law, this court holds that plaintiff carried its burden of proof at the bench trial, and orders that the defendant property be forfeited.

 A. The investigation and trial of Betty Aldeco and Hugo Castro

 The first testimony offered by the government was that of Ann Hayes, a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York from 1984 to 1989. Hayes, who was employed in the DEA's narcotics conspiracy group for this judicial district, attested to her personal involvement in an investigation into narcotics trafficking at the defendant premises.

 Specifically, Hayes testified that in the summer of 1987, an informant named Archibald told the DEA that two residents of 63-29 Trimble Road -- Betty Aldeco and her son Hugo Castro -- were dealing in cocaine. On July 16, 1987 while working undercover, Hayes personally observed Castro selling one-eighth of a kilogram of cocaine to Archibald in an automobile. Tr. 16. On July 20, Hayes and Archibald went to the defendant premises to obtain a promised sample of heroin from Castro; on their arrival, Castro explained that he was unable to procure the sample, and the transaction was never consummated.

 On November 12 of that same year, Hayes again accompanied Archibald to the residence, where she met Betty Aldeco. Hayes paid Aldeco $ 300 in satisfaction of a prior narcotics debt owed by Archibald. Tr. 17. On November 18, Hayes met Castro and his girlfriend Mila Bonilla at a Manhattan restaurant to discuss future cocaine transactions centering on Hayes' supposed ability to arrange for delivery of the drugs through Miami via a relative employed by an airline. According to Hayes, at the end of a lengthy conversation Castro expressed strong interest in working out a mutually beneficial arrangement for distributing cocaine.

 In April 1988, Hayes and other DEA agents formulated a plan to purchase two kilograms of cocaine from Castro. On April 13, Hayes and a second DEA agent met Castro at the house and went inside. While the agents waited in the living room, Castro went upstairs -- where Juan Carlos and Betty Aldeco had their bedroom -- and returned with a black; camera bag containing two packages wrapped in duct tape. The agents then drove Castro to a hotel near LaGuardia Airport for the ostensible purpose of collecting the cash to be given as payment, at which point Castro was placed under arrest by other DEA agents. Tr. 19.

 The government also offered the testimony of a second DEA agent, Stephen Marchini. Marchini testified that he conducted surveillance on the Trimble Road residence during the afternoon of April 13, 1988, where he observed Betty Aldeco, Juan Carlos Aldeco (her husband), and Castro and his girlfriend coming and going from the house in the period from 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Tr. 23-24. Marchini and other agents followed special Agent Hayes to LaGuardia that evening, where they arrested Castro and seized the two packages, which later proved to contain cocaine. Tr. 24-25.

 The agents then returned to Trimble Road to execute an arrest warrant for Betty Aldeco, who was not there. Marchini arrested Mila Bonilla as she attempted to exit the basement apartment. A subsequent consensual search of the basement turned up a metal box containing $ 5,000 in bundled currency. Tr. 26. Further investigation of the premises revealed a bundle of currency (approximately $ 5,490) lying on a table in the upstairs study.

 As the agents prepared to leave the scene, a car driven by Juan Carlos Aldeco pulled up in front of the house. Marchini walked over to the passenger side, where he observed Betty Aldeco attempting to conceal a plastic bag underneath the car seat. Upon arresting Betty Aldeco, Marchini determined that the bag contained approximately $ 9,000 in currency. Tr. 27-28.

 As Plaintiff's Exhibit 1, the government offered a certified copy of the subsequent indictment charging Hugo Castro and Betty Aldeco with multiple counts of conspiracy to possess, and possession with intent to distribute, cocaine and heroin. Exhibit 2 is a copy of Castro's March 17, 1989 judgment and conviction on all five counts charged in the indictment, pursuant to his guilty plea. Exhibit 5 is the lengthy transcript of the trial resulting in Betty Aldeco's conviction, as ...


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