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June 14, 2005.

SAUL RODRIGUEZ, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBORAH BATTS, District Judge


Before the Court is Defendant Saul Rodriguez' ("Rodriguez") pre-trial motion seeking suppression of physical evidence and statements made to law enforcement personnel.

For the reasons that follow, Defendant Rodriguez' motion to suppress is DENIED.


  Defendant Rodriguez is charged in an indictment with participating in a narcotics trafficking conspiracy from in or about October, 2003, up to and including in or about June, 2004.*fn1 According to the Government, between October, 2003 and June, 2004, Rodriguez and other co-conspirators were the targets of a criminal narcotics investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"). The DEA utilized wiretap authorizations, global positioning tracking devices, surveillance and confidential sources as part of its investigation. (Gov't.'s Letter dated May 5, 2005 at 1.) During the course of the investigation, the DEA learned that Wagner Bonilla, a Co-Defendant in this case, was a money launderer and narcotics trafficker, who was scheduled to receive a multi-kilogram shipment of cocaine at his home in College Point, New York in late 2003. (Id.) This information led to the surveillance of Bonilla's home, beginning in or about November, 2003. (Id. at 1-2.)

  On December 15, 2003, Rodriguez drove to Bonilla's house with his wife, Co-Defendant Edna Cortes in a 2000 Jeep Cherokee. DEA agents observed Bonilla leave his house with a light-colored shopping bag, enter the Jeep and then exit without the bag and re-enter his residence. Rodriguez and Cortes then drove away. (Id. at 2; Rodriguez Aff. ¶¶ 2-7.) DEA agents initiated a traffic stop of the Jeep, informing Rodriguez that a vehicle matching the description of the Jeep had been involved in a hit-and-run accident in Jackson Heights. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2; Rodriguez Aff ¶ 9.) The Government states that Rodriguez consented to the search of his car; Rodriguez states in his affidavit that his wife informed him that she had consented to the search.

  DEA agents seized the shopping bag that Bonilla had brought with him into the Jeep. It contained approximately $38,020. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2.) DEA agents questioned both Rodriguez and Cortes. The Government alleges that Rodriguez stated that the money was his mother's life savings. Rodriguez does not recall making that statement and states that he told them it was his money and his mother's. (Rodriguez Aff. ¶ 11.) According to the Government, DEA agents continued to question Rodriguez and he stated that he had received the bag from a man named "El Sobrino" who had given it to Rodriguez in the parking lot of B.J.'s Warehouse earlier that day. Cortes informed DEA agents that she was not with Rodriguez when he received the bag and that he had possessed the bag earlier in the day. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2.) The DEA agents then arrested Rodriguez and Cortes. They were subsequently released and the DEA continued to investigate Bonilla and others involved in the narcotics conspiracy. At the conclusion of the investigation, a federal grand jury indicted Rodriguez and his co-conspirators.


  Rodriguez seeks to suppress the physical evidence and statements he made to DEA agents on December 15, 2003 on the ground that the evidence and statements are fruit of an illegal search. (Rodriguez Aff. ¶ 16.) Rodriguez also contends that the consent to search was elicited by deception because there was no accident in Jackson Heights. The Government states that the vehicle stop was not illegal because the facts known to the DEA agents gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that Rodriguez was engaged in criminal activity, namely that Wagner Bonilla was a major narcotics trafficker who utilized his residence in connection with his drug business. (Gov't.'s Letter at 2-3.)

  The temporary detention of an automobile "by the police, even if for a brief time period and for a limited purpose, constitutes" a seizure of an individual under the Fourth Amendment. Brown v. City of Oneonta, New York, 221 F.3d 329, 340 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 809 (1996) (internal quotations omitted)). "An automobile stop is thus subject to the constitutional imperative that it not be unreasonable under the circumstances." United States v. Swindle, 2005 WL 1110925, at *3 (2d Cir. 2005). It is well established that the police may make such a stop for purposes of investigating possible criminal behavior, provided that the stop is based on the officer's "reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot." United States v. Colon, 250 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted); see also United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7 (1989) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968)). In determining when an officer possesses reasonable suspicion, the Court must look "not to his inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or `hunch,' but to the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experiences." United States v. Bold, 19 F.3d 99, 102 (2d Cir. 1994) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 22). The requisite degree of suspicion is "considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence." United States v. Glover, 957 F.2d 1004, 1009 (2d Cir. 1992) (citations and internal quotations omitted). In evaluating whether an officer possessed sufficient information to justify an investigative stop, the Court examines "both the content of information possessed by the police and its degree of reliability." Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 330 (1990); Bold, 19 F.3d at 102. The Court must scrutinize the totality of circumstances to determine whether an investigatory stop passes constitutional muster. See United States v. Salazar, 945 F.2d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 1991).

  DEA Special Agent Shane Todd's Affidavit in Support of an Application for Authorization to Intercept Electronic Communications states that DEA agents learned that an individual named "David," later determined to be Co-Defendant Wagner Bonilla, was to purchase an amount of cocaine. Bonilla was the subject of surveillance by DEA agents. (Todd Aff. ¶¶ 10-17.) On December 15, 2003, Special Agent Todd observed two individuals, Rodriguez and Cortes, drive up to Bonilla's residence in a green 2000 Jeep. Bonilla left his residence carrying a light-brown shopping bag and got into the Jeep. He then left the Jeep without the bag and reentered his residence.

  Based upon this information, DEA agents had reasonable suspicion to stop Rodriguez. It was reasonable for them to infer from the facts available that "criminal activity may be afoot." They knew that Bonilla was scheduled to purchase narcotics, and had observed Bonilla enter Rodriguez' vehicle with the light-brown shopping bag and leave the vehicle without it. It was reasonable for DEA agents to suspect that the bag contained material related to a drug transaction, particularly when Rodriguez and Cortes gave conflicting statements concerning the bag.*fn2 The Court finds that DEA agents had reasonable suspicion to stop Rodriguez' vehicle. Because the stop was legal, the evidence obtained from the search of the vehicle and statements made concerning the bag, are not fruit of an illegal search. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendant Rodriguez' motion to suppress physical evidence and statements and his request for an evidentiary hearing.


  For the foregoing reasons, Defendant Rodriguez' motion to suppress physical evidence and statements made to ...

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