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U.S. v. VALENCIA

October 7, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
V.
RAYMOND VALENCIA, A/K/A "PANAMA," DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denny Chin, United States District Judge.

OPINION

In this unusual criminal case, defendant Raymond Valencia is charged in a one-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine. The indictment does not identify any alleged co-conspirators and the only overt acts charged in the indictment relate to Valencia's dealings with a confidential source who was acting at the direction of law enforcement. Valencia pled guilty to the charge in April 1999 and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 97 months. Valencia appealed but the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction.

In July 2001, Valencia filed, pro se, a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence. He argued that his guilty plea allocution was insufficient because he had admitted only that he had agreed with a confidential informant to engage in a narcotics transaction. He did not admit that he had conspired with anyone else. As discussed below, a defendant cannot be guilty of conspiracy to illegally distribute narcotics unless he conspires with someone other than a government agent or informant.

On December 13, 2001, without opposition from the Government, I granted the motion and vacated the conviction. Valencia was permitted to withdraw his guilty plea and the charge was reinstated. By then, Valencia had served some 53 months of his 97-month prison sentence. I released him on bail pending trial.

After pre-trial motions, Valencia waived his right to a jury. The case was tried to the Court, without a jury, on September 23 and 24, 2002. The issue whether Valencia conspired with anyone other than the confidential source continued to be the principal question in dispute. Indeed, the Government presented no evidence at trial as to the identity of any alleged co-conspirators, and the record showed that despite several hours of surveillance on each of two days, no law enforcement officer saw Valencia interacting with any one other than the informant. Nonetheless, for the reasons set forth below, I find that the Government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Valencia conspired with others — his suppliers — to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Accordingly, a judgment of conviction will be entered against him finding him guilty on the sole count of the indictment.

Pursuant to Rule 23(c) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, my findings of fact and conclusions of law follow.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

A. The Facts

1. The Confidential Source

Some 40 minutes later, the CS received a return page, with the inputted numbers: "23500-666." (Id. at 22). The code "666" identified Valencia as the source of the page and "23500" referred to the price that Valencia was going to charge for a kilo of cocaine — $23,500. (Id. at 59; see also id. at 74)

2. The Telephone Conversations

On July 28, 1997, the agents met with the CS again, at approximately 1 p.m. at FBI offices in Manhattan. During the meeting, the CS received a page with the numbers inputted "989-428-666." The agents recognized the "989-428" to be Valencia's pager number, with one digit missing. (See GX 31 (stipulating that Valencia's pager number, in July 1997, was 917-989-4328)). The agents and the CS then left FBI offices and found a public pay phone in the vicinity. The agents attached recording equipment to the pay phone and paged Valencia, entering the pay phone number as a call back number. Within a few minutes, the pay phone rang. It was Valencia and he and the CS had a conversation, which was recorded. (Trial Tr. at 22-26; GX 1T).*fn1 The following is an excerpt:

CS: Oh, What's up with the two?

RV [Raymond Valencia] : Whenever you're ready!

CS: But, you can't come to me?

RV: Nope.

CS: Why not?

RV: Cause I don't know. I can't. I don't travel. You know that.

CS: You don't travel?

RV: I don't travel.

CS: Alright.

RV: Si tu eres medio "federico" [In case you're acting like a Fed.]

CS: [Laughs] Yo!

RV: Yeah?

CS: So, damn. Alright, so let me call this guy. Cause I got to get the paper from this guy. But this guy is gonna have to. most likely I'm gonna come with the guy. [U/I]
RV: No, but you come by yourself, bro. You know how we do it, bro.

(GX 1T).

After the conversation, Dubbels, Demarest, and other agents went with the CS to Queens. Approximately 3:12 p.m., the agents paged Valencia, inputting the CS's cell phone number as a call back number and also inputting "77-2000," to indicate that the CS was interested in purchasing two kilograms of cocaine. Approximately two minutes later, the CS received a telephone call on his cell phone from Valencia. The brief conversation between Valencia and the CS was recorded. The CS told Valencia that he was on 108th Street and Valencia expressed surprise that the CS was in Queens already without having given him more notice. Valencia told the CS: "I'll meet you in front. I'm goin' right now. I'm like ten minutes away." (Trial Tr. at 29-31; GX 2T).

A few minutes later, Valencia paged the CS with a call back number. At 3:32 p.m., the CS called the number and the agents recorded the conversation between Valencia and the CS. The following is an excerpt:

RV: Where you at?

CS: 108 and 37th.

RV: Alright, check this out. Uh, I didn't think you were gonna come this early, so I'm not really ready yet. I just beeped my man. He's coming to my house. As soon as he gets here, I'm gonna page you. And it's gonna be lower.

CS: Oh, what's the price on it . . . oh, so how much?

RV: So, let me, let me see how it is, you know I'm ...

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