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UNITED STATES v. HAMDAN

June 16, 1995

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA against JAMIL HAMDAN, also known as "Jimmy," and OMAR ADEL MOHAMED, Defendants


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GLEESON

 JOHN GLEESON, United States District Judge:

 The defendants, Jamil "Jimmy" Hamdan and Omar Adel Mohamed, are charged with receiving and possessing goods known to be stolen, and with conspiring to commit that offense. They have moved to suppress certain evidence that the government intends to offer at trial.

 In January of 1995, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") was notified by J.B. Hunt, a company involved in interstate transportation, that a 50-foot J.B. Hunt trailer loaded with Magnavox color televisions, stereo systems, portable cassette players and computer components had been stolen in East Brunswick, New Jersey. On January 13, 1995, the trailer was recovered in Staten Island, New York; the only items remaining in it were the computer components.

 Approximately one month later, in mid-February of 1995, a confidential informant, who operated a small trucking business, telephoned J.B. Hunt with information about a load of Magnavox electronics that the informant had been asked to transport. Security officials from J.B. Hunt put the informant in contact with the FBI.

 On February 13, 1995, the informant telephoned the FBI and stated that he had been approached by an individual who asked the informant to transport Magnavox equipment. The informant told the FBI that he had been shown the Magnavox products, as well as paperwork that bore the name "J.B. Hunt." Additionally, the informant stated to the FBI that the individual seeking to move the electronics had imposed a series of conditions: he had told the informant that he and another man, both of Arab descent, wanted to be given the keys to the informant's truck; that they, rather than the informant, would drive the truck to a warehouse at an undisclosed location and load it with the merchandise; that the loaded truck would then be returned to the informant; and that the informant would finally drive the truck to two locations, which would be revealed to the informant only at the time he received the fully-loaded vehicle.

 The FBI advised the informant to go through with the plan, which was scheduled for the next day, and told him that agents would conduct surveillance of the events as they transpired. On February 14, 1995, the agents observed the informant arrive at the prearranged meeting point in Brooklyn. Soon thereafter, the two defendants arrived at the meeting point. After the parties drove a short distance and pulled over on a nearby street, the defendants took the keys to the informant's truck. The defendants then drove the truck to a warehouse at 505 Johnson Avenue in Brooklyn and backed the vehicle into the warehouse's loading dock. The FBI continued to keep the vehicle under surveillance, but the truck completely blocked the agents' view of the loading dock and what was occurring there.

 Approximately one hour after their arrival at the loading dock, the defendants reentered the truck and began driving away. The agents stopped the truck six blocks from the warehouse, arrested the defendants, opened the side door of the truck and discovered more than 100 boxes of Magnavox products. Some of these boxes matched the description of those stolen from J.B. Hunt. *fn1" The agents then returned to the warehouse at 505 Johnson Avenue and searched it, uncovering another 400 boxes of electronics that matched the description of the stolen Hunt load. *fn2"

 In the first of the pre-trial motions that are the subject of this order, both Hamdan and Mohamed have moved to suppress the evidence discovered in the truck. The defendants assert that there was no probable cause for their warrant less arrest and the warrantless search of the truck. Second, Hamdan seeks to suppress the evidence obtained in the warrant less search of the warehouse.

 On June 1 and June 7, 1995, this Court conducted a suppression hearing, and oral argument was heard on June 14, 1995. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motions are denied.

 A. THE MOTION TO SUPPRESS EVIDENCE SEIZED FROM THE TRUCK

 1. Probable Cause for the Arrests

 Probable cause to arrest exists when the authorities have knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution in the belief that an offense has been committed by the person to be arrested. Calamia v. City of New York, 879 F.2d 1025, 1032 (2d Cir. 1989); see also Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 208 n.9, 60 L. Ed. 2d 824, 99 S. Ct. 2248 (1979). In order to establish probable cause, there need not be a "prima facie showing of criminal activity." United States v. Travisano, 724 F.2d 341, 346 (2d Cir. 1983). Probable cause is instead a "fluid concept" that turns on the particular facts in each case. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232, 76 L. Ed. 2d 527, 103 S. Ct. 2317 (1983). Moreover, a determination as to probable cause depends upon the totality of the circumstances "as seen and weighed not by scholars, but as understood by those versed in the field of law enforcement." United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 418, 66 L. Ed. 2d 621, 101 S. Ct. 690 (1981).

 The defendants contend that the warrantless arrests stemmed solely from uncorroborated information provided by an unknown informant, and that the conduct of the defendants was wholly innocuous. I find this argument to be without merit, and conclude that the totality of the circumstances provided the FBI with probable cause to arrest the defendants.

 The FBI did not rely solely upon the statements of the informant in deciding to make the arrests. While the informant provided information that indicated that illegal activity might be afoot, the FBI had prior knowledge of the recent and local theft of a truckload of Magnavox electronics, the same brand the informant was being asked to transport. The informant's statement that he had been shown paperwork bearing the name J.B. Hunt further linked the goods he had been asked to transport to the truckload of goods that had been stolen a month earlier.

 In addition, the FBI confirmed the informant's account through independent surveillance. The totality-of-the-circumstances analysis "consistently recognize[s] the value of corroboration of details of an informant's tip by independent police work." Gates, 462 U.S. at 241. By conducting surveillance on February 14 and confirming that the defendants' appearance and activities matched the information provided by the informant, *fn3" the FBI sufficiently established the credibility of the informant, and could reasonably conclude that stolen Magnavox equipment was loaded into ...


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