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January 17, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Sweet, United States District Judge


On November 27, 2001, Hector Penaranda ("Penaranda") was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A), 846, a Class A felony.

The Offense Conduct

Patricia Lopez ("Lopez") and her partner Nelson Perez ("Perez") were drug dealers who sold multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine and heroin that was obtained from a Colombian source of supply. The drugs were smuggled into the United States by couriers in suitcases and wrapped in greased packages to thwart drug-sniff ing dogs and in x-ray paper to avoid detection. Prior to engaging in drug trafficking themselves, Lopez and Perez worked for the Colombians transporting money, the proceeds of drug trafficking, that was to be sent back to Colombia.

Lopez and Perez obtained customers from Noel Espada ("Espada"). Espada introduced Lopez and Perez to James Hernandez a/k/a "Jason," a/k/a "Chuck," a/k/a "Chuckie," ("Hernandez") and Michael Villafane, a/k/a "Mike," ("Villafane") who were drug dealers, and who thereafter purchased drugs from Lopez and Perez.

Another of Lopez's and Perez's customers was Penaranda, a drug dealer. Lopez claims that Penaranda had received at least 15 kilograms of cocaine and 200 grams of heroin for distribution from Lopez and Perez.*fn1 Penaranda paid for part of, but not all of, the drugs which he obtained from Lopez and Perez. As a result, he owed them approximately $80,000.

On October 29, 2000, Perez was shot and seriously wounded in a shoot-out at the apartment he shared with Lopez in the Bronx, New York. With Perez no longer available to help her, Lopez now had the sole responsibility of collecting the money owed to her and Perez by their customers. Lopez needed to collect this money in order to pay her Colombian drug suppliers. At the time that Perez was shot, he and Lopez were owed $300,000 by various customers, including Penaranda, Villafane and Hernandez, who owed them $50,000 for cocaine and heroin they had received.

As a result of her inability to collect money owed to her, Lopez contacted her suppliers in Colombia and explained to them the reason she could not pay her debt to them. Consequently, the Colombian suppliers dispatched Ramiro Rodriguez ("Rodriguez") from Colombia to help collect the money that the Colombian suppliers were owed. Rodriguez arrived in Miami from Bogota, Colombia, and traveled to New York, within a week of Perez getting shot. Rodriguez then spent the next few weeks helping to collect payments with Lopez.

Once in New York, Rodriguez obtained the assistance of Jose Parrado ("Parrado") to help collect the drug money that the Colombian suppliers were owed.

The first customer Lopez approached about the debt owed was Penaranda. Lopez not only wanted Penaranda to pay his own $80,000 drug debt, but also needed his assistance in contacting some other customers of hers from Baltimore, Maryland, who owed her the most money, more than $200,000. Lopez had been introduced to these customers by Penaranda. Penaranda, in turn, recruited Ramon Echivaria ("Echivaria"), a friend of his, to help collect the money.

Hernandez and Villafane had obtained more than a kilogram of heroin and more than five kilograms of cocaine from Lopez and Perez; a portion of which they wanted to return. On November 2, 2000, Hernandez and Villafane met with Espada in the Bronx, New York, to return part of the crack cocaine and heroin that they had not paid for, claiming that they could not sell it. Hernandez and Villafane, who owed $50,000 for the drugs, gave Espada a bag of approximately 300 grams of heroin. They were arrested by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration and those drugs were seized.

On November 14, 2000, Lopez attempted to contact Noel Espada to obtain the money that Hernandez and Villafane owed her for the narcotics recovered by law enforcement as discussed above. On that day, Lopez, assisted by Ramirez, Penaranda and Parrado, went to the house of a relative of Espada and asked the relative to give Espada a pager number at which Lopez could be reached.

On November 15, 2000, Espada paged the pager number left by Lopez and spoke to her during a monitored phone conversation. During this conversation, Lopez said that she needed to meet with Espada because he told her that he had collected money that she was owed by Hernandez and Villafane. Espada and Lopez made arrangements to meet in Manhattan on November 16, 2000, but Lopez did not show up for that meeting.

On November 20, 2000, Espada paged Lopez again. Law enforcement agents monitored the phone call. After Lopez answered the phone, which was a cell phone, she made arrangements to meet at a McDonald's in the Bronx, New York, so that Espada could give her the money owed to her from the lost narcotics. Thereafter, ...

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