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U.S. v. SANTIAGO

June 3, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
V.
JOSE SANTIAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marrero, District Judge.

      DECISION AND ORDER

After a two-month jury trial, defendants Jose Santiago (hereinafter "Santiago") and Julius Williams (hereinafter "Williams") were convicted of several offenses arising out of their participation in a criminal enterprise that the Government referred to as "Thief David's Crew." More specifically, Santiago was convicted of three counts and Williams of two counts of a nine-count indictment. With respect to the remaining counts against defendants Santiago and Williams, as well as all counts against defendant Adrian Agostini (hereinafter "Agostini"), the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. At the close of the Government's case-in-chief on February 20, 2002, each defendant moved the Court, pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (hereinafter "Rule 29"), for a judgment of acquittal on the respective counts charged against him. Each motion was based on an alleged insufficiency of evidence. The Court reserved decision on the motions pursuant to Rule 29(b). For the reasons discussed below, the motions are denied in part and granted in part.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Evidence of various acts of violence charged against members of Santiago's gang were presented at trial. For example, on February 3, 1998, a drug addict named Alan McLeod (hereinafter "McLeod") was stabbed to death in front of 600 East 137th Street in the Bronx, New York; on April 19, 1998, Francisco Martinez (hereinafter "Martinez") was shot after a fight broke out at The Loft; and on March 18, 2000 Paul Crowder was slashed with knives in the vestibule of the building at 575 East 140th Street in the Bronx. These acts, as discussed below, figure prominently in a number of crimes for which the three defendants were indicted and in the grounds they assert in support of their respective Rule 29 motions.

B. LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, a Court "shall order the entry of judgment of acquittal . . . if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of [any charged] offense or offenses." Fed.R.Crim.P. 29(a). In considering such a motion, the Court must decide, based on all of the relevant evidence, whether a rational juror "might fairly conclude guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Mariani, 725 F.2d 862, 865 (2d Cir. 1984) (quoting United States v. Taylor, 464 F.2d 240, 243 (2d Cir. 1972)); accord United States v. Bloome, 784 F. Supp. 23, 25 (E.D.N.Y. 1992). A Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the Government, see Mariani, 725 F.2d at 865, and all issues of credibility in favor of the jury's verdict. See United States v. Weiss, 930 F.2d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 1991); United States v. Roldan-Zapata, 916 F.2d 795, 802 (2d Cir. 1990).

A defendant "challenging the sufficiency of the evidence bears a very heavy burden." United States v. Rivera, 971 F.2d 876, 890 (2d Cir. 1992). He or she must establish that, "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, . . . no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Leslie, 103 F.3d 1093, 1100 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1220, 117 S.Ct. 1713, 137 L.Ed.2d 837 (1997) (quoting United States v. Taylor, 92 F.3d 1313; 1333 (2d Cir. 1996)).

II. CLAIMS BY JULIUS WILLIAMS

Williams was charged in Counts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Seven and Eight. Count One charged that Williams, Santiago and others participated in the operation and management of Thief David's Crew through a pattern of racketeering activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (hereinafter the "RICO statute"). Williams's pattern of racketeering activity allegedly consisted of his participation in at least two of three charged racketeering acts: (1) a narcotics conspiracy from 1994 through March 2000 to distribute and possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine, heroin, and marijuana; (2) the murder of McLeod on February 3, 1998; and (3) the attempted murder of Martinez on April 19, 1998. Count One also charged that Williams participated in and, as a manager of the enterprise, directed others to carry out unlawful activities in furtherance of the conduct of the enterprise's affairs.

To prove that Williams was guilty of violating the RICO statute, the Government was required to establish five elements beyond a reasonable doubt: first, that the criminal enterprise set out in the Indictment existed; second, that Williams was associated with or employed by the enterprise; third, that Williams engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity; fourth, that Williams unlawfully, willfully, and knowingly conducted or participated in the conduct of the affairs of that enterprise through that pattern of racketeering activity; and fifth, that the enterprise affected interstate or foreign commerce. See United States v. Indelicato, 865 F.2d 1370, 1373 (2d Cir. 1989) (en banc). Williams asserts that there was insufficient evidence for a rational juror to conclude that the second, third and fourth elements existed.

Specifically he asserts that the evidence neither established that he was part of the RICO enterprise, nor that he was involved in the operation and management of the enterprise. In addition, Williams asserts that there was insufficient evidence for a rational juror to conclude that he had engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity. He argues that there was inadequate proof with respect to the murder alleged in Racketeering Act Three and the attempted murder alleged in Racketeering Act Four. Finally, Williams argues that even if there was sufficient evidence for a rational juror to conclude that he committed the alleged murder and attempted murder, there was insufficient evidence that he conducted or participated in the conduct of the affairs of the enterprise through those acts.

As an initial matter, the Court finds no merit in Williams's claim that he was not a member of Thief David's Crew. During the course of the trial, there was ample evidence that Williams not only sold drugs for Santiago, but that he also served as one of Santiago's enforcers, carrying out discipline in the enterprise and protecting its drug operations from other gangs. At trial, Eric Cabrera (hereinafter "Cabrera") testified that in late 1997, Williams supplied him with crack to sell on several occasions. (Trial Tr. at 768.) Cabrera sold crack on the Block and returned the money from the sales to Williams. (Trial Tr. at 768, 809.) In return, Williams gave Cabrera a twenty percent commission. (Id.)

These facts were more than sufficient for a rational juror to conclude that Williams was associated with Thief David's Crew and that he had some part in conducting the affairs of the enterprise. See Reves v. Ernst & Young, 507 U.S. 170, 179, 113 S.Ct. 1163, 122 L.Ed.2d 525 (1993) ("In order to `participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs,' one must have some part in directing those affairs. Of course, the word `participate' makes clear that RICO liability is not limited to those with primary responsibility for the enterprise's affairs, just as the phrase `directly or indirectly' makes clear that RICO liability is not limited to those with a formal position in the enterprise, but some part in directing the enterprise's affairs is required."); see also De Falco v. Bernas, 244 F.3d 286, 310-11 (2d Cir. 2001).

With respect to the third and fourth elements of Count One, Williams makes two related arguments: first, that there was insufficient evidence that he engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity; and second, that even if there was evidence that he did commit certain acts, there was insufficient evidence that he knowingly participated in the conduct of the affairs of Thief David's Crew through that pattern of racketeering activity. (Trial Tr. at 4507-09.) Both arguments are unavailing. However, based on the evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that a rational juror could have reasonably concluded that Williams: (1) engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity by murdering McLeod and attempting to murder Martinez; and (2) knowingly participated in the conduct of the affairs of Thief David's Crew through that pattern of racketeering activity.*fn2

A. MURDER OF ALAN McLEOD

Counts Five and Seven and Racketeering Act Three of Count One charge that Williams violated a number of statutes by murdering Alan McLeod. Williams asserts that there was insufficient evidence that he committed the murder of McLeod. In the alternative, he contends that there was no evidence that the alleged murder was connected to the affairs of Thief David's Crew. The Court disagrees and finds that there was ample evidence at trial that Williams murdered McLeod in connection with his role as an "enforcer" of Thief David's Crew.

1. Factual Background

On February 3, 1998, Cabrera, Cofield, Cherry, Ortiz and Juaqin Diaz (hereinafter "Diaz") were standing in front of the building at 600 East 137th Street "hanging out" and smoking marijuana. (Trial Tr. at 1226.) Some time between 1:30 and 2 a.m., McLeod came out of the building at 600 East 137th Street and asked them if they had any money. (Trial Tr. at 777.) Ortiz described McLeod as a "drug addict" (Trail Tr. at 1224), and Cofield described him as a "crack head." (Trial Tr. at 2429.) According to Cabrera and Ortiz, a few minutes later, they saw Williams approaching them. (Trial Tr. 777, 1227.)

Williams asked McLeod if he had the money that he owed Williams. (Trial Tr. at 778.) McLeod told Williams that he was going to get it. (Trial Tr. at 779.) Williams approached Cabrera and told him, "I'm going to give him a pack, and when he finishes, get the money for me." (Trial Tr. at 780.) Cabrera testified that he understood a "pack" to mean a "bundle" of crack cocaine. (Id.) Cabrera also testified that McLeod owed Williams one hundred dollars for taking crack cocaine from Williams on other occasions. (Id.) Williams approached McLeod and "punched" him in the stomach. (Trial Tr. at 781.) Cabrera testified that he later discovered that what he had thought was a "punch" was in fact, a knife stabbing. (Trial Tr. at 782.) McLeod ran into a nearby grassy area and Williams followed him and stabbed him twice in the lower part of his neck and upper back. (Id.) Enoch Cherry testified that he heard Williams say, "next time, pay me my money," as Williams stabbed McLeod. (Trial Tr. at 1119.)

After stabbing McLeod, Williams told Cabrera, Cofield, Ortiz, Enoch Cherry and Diaz to leave. They went inside the lobby of 600 East 137th Street but waited to see if McLeod would get up. After approximately one minute, they came back out of the building and Williams saw them. (Trial Tr. at 790.) Williams told them all to leave and signaled that McLeod was dead, drawing his hand across his throat. (Trial Tr. at 791.) Everyone left the area and at some point, the police arrived and secured the crime scene. At 3:26 a.m., a medical legal investigator named Craig Angard (hereinafter "Angard"), received a call that there had been a homicide in front of 600 East 137th Street and he reported to the scene approximately thirty minutes later. (Trial Tr. at 1278.) Angard discovered a stab wound on the back of McLeod's neck and found another stab wound in McLeod's chest. (Id.) There was a large amount of blood around McLeod's chest area.

Implicitly acknowledging the weight of the evidence that he murdered McLeod, Williams asserts that "there is no evidence to suggest that [he] did [the murder] than out of either personal pique or out of the fact that . . . he believed that McLeod owed him somewhere in excess of $10." (Trial Tr. at 4509.) As with his argument that there was insufficient evidence of his membership in the enterprise, the Court finds this argument to be meritless.

The foregoing evidence could have reasonably supported a conclusion that: (1) Williams was selling crack cocaine for Santiago in February 1998; (2) Williams's role in Thief David's Crew was to maintain discipline, collect money and prevent robberies through intimidation and acts of violence; (3) McLeod owed Williams $100 for crack cocaine that he had taken from Williams for consumption; (4) McLeod was frightened and was asking other people for money on February 3, 1998; and (5) Williams killed McLeod because of his failure to pay Williams this debt. Williams's argument that he may have killed McLeod due to some "personal pique" or a "$10 debt" is not only unlikely, it is completely contrary to the evidence presented at trial, including but not limited to, the testimony of LaPlaza, Cabrera, Cofield and Ortiz. Such evidence was sufficient for a rational juror to conclude that Williams murdered McLeod in connection with his role in Thief David's, Crew, as alleged in Racketeering Act Three.

Similar reasoning applies to Counts Five and Seven. Count Five and Racketeering Act Three are almost identical, in that they both allege that Williams murdered McLeod in connection with his role in Thief David's Crew. Racketeering Act Three alleges that Williams murdered McLeod while he was conducting the affairs of Thief David's Crew and Count Five alleges that he committed the murder "for the purpose of gaining entrance to and maintaining and increasing his position in Thief David's Crew," in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959 (hereinafter "§ 1959"). (Indictment ¶ 25.) With respect to Williams's Rule 29 motions, these separate allegations present a distinction without a difference. There was ample evidence for a rational juror to conclude that Williams killed McLeod to maintain his role in Thief David's Crew as an "enforcer" and that the murder was connected to his participation and conduct in the enterprise for the same reason. See United States v. Concepcion, 983 F.2d 369, 381 (2d Cir. 1992); see also Untied States v. Tipton, 90 F.3d 861, 891 (4th Cir. 1996) (holding that defendants had killed others for the purpose of maintaining their membership in a RICO enterprise).

Count Seven is slightly different, in that it alleges that Williams murdered McLeod while he was "engaged in an offense punishable under Section 841(b)(1)(A) of Title 21, United States Code." (Indictment ¶ 28.) To prove Williams guilty of Count Seven, the Government was required to establish that: (1) Williams was guilty of a narcotics conspiracy; (2) the drug conspiracy involved at least 50 grams of crack cocaine, or one kilogram or more of heroin; (3) while engaging in such a drug conspiracy, Williams intentionally killed Alan McLeod or counseled, induced, procured, or caused the intentional killing of Alan McLeod; and (4) the killing of Alan McLeod actually resulted from the actions of Williams. See United States v. Walker, 142 F.3d 103, 113 (2d Cir. 1998). Based on the evidence discussed above, the Court finds that there was sufficient evidence for a rational juror to convict Williams on Count Seven. The testimony of LaPlaza, Cofield, and Cabrera could have reasonably supported inferences that Williams was a member of a drug conspiracy that involved at least 50 grams of crack cocaine, or one kilogram or more of heroin and that while engaging in such drug conspiracy, Williams intentionally killed Alan McLeod.

B. ATTEMPTED MURDER OF FRANCISCO MARTINEZ

Count Four and Racketeering Act Four of Count One both allege that on April 19, 1998, Williams, Jose Baerga (hereinafter "Baerga"), and others attempted to murder Martinez in the vicinity of 3rd Avenue and East 155th Street in the Bronx, New York. Count One alleges that Racketeering Act Four was part of a pattern of racketeering activity through which Williams participated in the conduct of the affairs of Thief David's Crew. Count Four alleges that Williams committed the attempted murder of Martinez for the purpose of gaining entrance to or maintaining and increasing his position in Thief David's Crew, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959.

1. Factual Background

a. Connection of The Loft to Thief David's Crew

In February 1998, Santiago and members of his enterprise ran The Loft as an after-hours club. (Trial Tr. at 2048, 245354, 2865.) The Government contends, and the evidence at trial could support a reasonable inference, that the management and operation of The Loft was connected to the narcotics conspiracy charged in Racketeering Act One. See 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1). Cofield and other witnesses testified that The Loft was on one floor and a separate nightclub, called "Club X," was located on a different floor of the same building. (Trial Tr. at 2453-54.) Cofield gave out promotional cards advertising The Loft and other members of Thief David's Crew worked as security at The Loft, including, Williams, Jesus Rivera (hereinafter "Rivera"), Baerga and other members of the "the Cypress Milbrook Boys." The "Cypress Milbrook Boys," also known as the "CMB," were the "older guys" in Santiago's enterprise. (Trial Tr. at 2423.) The group included Santiago, Williams, Rivera, and two other individuals nicknamed "Bill Blass" and "Macho." (Id.) The evidence presented at trial could have reasonably supported an inference that the CMB was a sub-group of Thief David's Crew that sold narcotics for Santiago and committed acts of violence to protect the business and affairs of the enterprise.*fn3 The Loft's security staff wore leather jackets with markings of their names on the front and the words "The Loft" on the back. (Trial Tr. at 2456.)


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