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Spigelman v. United States

August 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S.D.J.



On July 20, 2007, a four-count Superseding Indictment, S3 05 CR 960, was filed charging petitioner, Joel Spigelman, with: (1) intentional murder in connection with a drug conspiracy;*fn1 (2) murder in aid of racketeering;*fn2 (3) murder committed with a firearm;*fn3 and (4) conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.*fn4 Spigelman's trial began on July 9, 2007, and ended on July 19, 2007, at which time the jury convicted him of all four counts. This Court sentenced Spigelman to four concurrent life sentences, which he is currently serving at USP Coleman in Coleman, Florida.

On September 28, 2010, proceeding pro se, Spigelman filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255*fn5 ("Section 2255").*fn6 In his Petition, Spigelman raises the following grounds: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) defective S3 Indictment and improper venue; (3) knowing use of false evidence; (4) unreasonableness of life sentence; (5) insufficient evidence; (6) violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause; (7) impairment at trial; (8) error by the Second Circuit in deciding his appeal: (9) selective prosecution; and (10) multiple conspiracies. For the following reasons, Spigelman's Petition is denied in its entirety.


A. The Government's Case at Trial

At trial, the Government presented overwhelming evidence that Spigelman ordered the robbery and murder of a female drug courier who was transporting large amounts of cocaine (the "murder"). The evidence showed that on March 17, 1999, Spigelman was expecting the courier to deliver fifty kilograms of cocaine to his home in Queens and to have another one hundred and fifty kilograms of cocaine in the trunk of her car. Spigelman directed an individual named Jose Hernando Rodriguez a/k/a "Porcelana" - the leader of a robbery crew with whom Spigelman regularly did business - to rob the woman of the one hundred and fifty kilograms of cocaine after she delivered the fifty kilograms to Spigelman. As part of the plan, Spigelman told Porcelana to kill the woman so that the robbery could not be traced back to him.*fn7 Members of Porcelana's crew and others subsequently followed the woman from Spigelman's house, kidnaped her from her car, stole her drugs, and killed her, shooting her once in the head.*fn8

The Government's evidence at trial included the testimony of over a dozen witnesses, as well as Spigelman's confession on the day of his arrest. The witnesses included four individuals - Ricardo Castro-Cubillos ("Castro"), Geovanney Cordova, Jose Ramos, and Richard Paul - who testified pursuant to cooperation agreements with the Government. Castro was a member of the Porcelana crew and had worked with Spigelman for years; he personally met with Spigelman in connection with the murder and actually participated in the robbery. Cordova and Ramos were members of another crew, the Restrepo Crew, that helped commit the robbery and murder. Paul sold kilogram-quantities of cocaine to Spigelman independent of both robbery crews. The testimony of the four cooperating witnesses was corroborated by crime scene photographs, the medical examiner's autopsy report and testimony, and papers recovered during a search of Spigelman's home upon his arrest. The Government also presented testimony from a witness who found the victim's body after she had been shot, the first police officer to respond to the scene, and victims of related robberies that were committed after the murder.

1. The Racketeering Enterprise: The Porcelana Organization

In addition to selling jewelry from a booth in the Diamond District of Manhattan, Spigelman also regularly conspired with a violent armed robbery crew led by Porcelana (the "Porcelana Crew").*fn9 Spigelman performed several roles in connection with the Porcelana Crew. First and foremost, Spigelman was a tipster, providing the Porcelana Crew with information about jewelers and drug dealers who had drugs, merchandise, and/or money they could steal.*fn10 In return for those tips, Spigelman received an equal share of the robbery proceeds.*fn11 Second, Spigelman served as a "fence" and drug dealer who purchased stolen jewelry and drugs from the Porcelana Crew for resale.*fn12

Although Spigelman began working with the Porcelana Crew as early as 1995,*fn13 the core members of the Porcelana Crew, who robbed and murdered the female drug courier, began working together in approximately 1997.*fn14 From 1997 through 1999, the Porcelana Crew committed between twenty and thirty successful armed robberies.*fn15

The Porcelana Crew generally targeted jewelers and drug dealers,*fn16

based primarily on inside information (tips) from tipsters like Spigelman, who knew the targets or had some connection to them.*fn17 Once they received a tip, the Porcelana Crew conducted surveillance of the location and/or person to be robbed. This surveillance, which took as long as three weeks to complete, was needed to confirm the target's identity and determine an opportune moment to carry out the robbery.*fn18

The Porcelana Crew used a consistent modus operandi in carrying out its robberies. Members of the Porcelana Crew, most of whom were almost always armed during the robberies, used firearms to gain entrance to victims' residences and to force victims to reveal the locations of drugs, money, jewelry, and other valuables.*fn19 The Porcelana Crew used violence and threats of violence to subdue their victims and obtain information. During the course of robberies, victims were frequently tied up, restrained, threatened with guns, and beaten.*fn20 In order to conceal their identities, Porcelana and other crew members wore hooded sweatshirts and baseball caps.*fn21

Between 1997 and 1999, the Porcelana Crew consisted of five core members: Porcelana, Castro a/k/a "Corbato," and individuals known as "Bobo," "Piper," and "Conejo."*fn22 Each member had a specific role to play.*fn23 Porcelana and Castro were the first members to rush inside of an apartment or house to be robbed, followed by Conejo.*fn24 Piper collected tips for the robbery crew while Bobo acted as look-out, waiting outside in a getaway car.*fn25 After successful robberies, the Porcelana Crew divided the proceeds and then sold the stolen jewelry and drugs through Spigelman and other fences and narcotics traffickers.*fn26 Each member of the crew, plus the tipster, received an equal share of the proceeds.*fn27

2. The March 17, 1999 Robbery and Murder

a. The Tip

On the night of March 15, 1999, two days before the murder, Spigelman met with Porcelana and Conejo to plan the murder of the female drug courier. At that meeting, Spigelman told Porcelana that he could follow the woman from Spigelman's house and rob her of the one hundred and fifty kilograms she had in the trunk of her car.*fn28 Spigelman told Porcelana that he would have to kill her so the robbery could never be traced back to him. Porcelana agreed to Spigelman's offer.*fn29

b. The Robbery

On the morning of March 17, 1999, members of the Porcelana Crew waited outside Spigelman's home in Queens for the woman to arrive with two hundred kilograms of cocaine.*fn30 When she arrived, Castro got out of his car and walked by as the woman handed a box of cocaine to Spigelman.*fn31 Castro confirmed that the woman had additional boxes of drugs in the trunk of her car and informed Porcelana of this fact.*fn32 As the woman drove away from Spigelman's house, members of the Porcelana Crew followed her in several cars.*fn33

At this point, Porcelana realized that he did not have a loaded gun with which to commit the robbery and murder.*fn34 Porcelana and Castro decided to call Alex Restrepo, the violent leader of the Restrepo Crew, to provide a loaded gun.*fn35 What Porcelana did not realize, however, was that the Restrepo Crew was already involved in this robbery. After Conejo and Porcelana first met with Spigelman and received the tip, Conejo secretly went to the Restrepo Crew and told them that they could steal fifty kilograms of cocaine from Spigelman after the courier delivered the drugs to him.*fn36 Consequently, when the woman arrived in front of Spigelman's house that morning, two different robbery crews were watching her every move.

The Restrepo Crew followed Spigelman, who was carrying the cocaine he received from the courier, from his house that morning but lost him as he arrived in Manhattan.*fn37 It was at that point that Restrepo received the call from Porcelana asking him to join the robbery of the woman.*fn38

The two robbery crews joined forces at a McDonald's restaurant on Queens Boulevard, where the Porcelana Crew was watching the woman.*fn39 As the woman left McDonald's, more than ten robbers in six different cars followed her.*fn40

On a street around the corner from the McDonald's, the two crews trapped the courier's car between two of their own. There, they forced her out of her car at gunpoint.*fn41 Restrepo and Cordova put the woman in the back of Conejo's van, and Castro got into the woman's car and drove it to Porcelana's house.*fn42 Upon arriving at Porcelana's house, Castro verified that the cocaine was in the car's trunk and called Porcelana to let him know.*fn43 Porcelana responded, "Okay, then wipe-out time."*fn44

c. The Murder

Restrepo, Conejo, and Cordova drove the black van with the courier in the back while Porcelana and other crew members followed close behind in different cars.*fn45 At a certain point, the convoy stopped on the side of the road, and Restrepo and Cordova told Conejo to get out of the van and ask Porcelana what they should do with the woman.*fn46 Cordova watched Conejo get into the car parked directly behind the van and speak to Porcelana.*fn47 After making a quick call, Porcelana looked up at the van and gave the signal to kill the woman by slicing his hand across his neck.*fn48 The crew members drove back to the highway and Porcelana again gave the order to kill the courier, shouting: "There, right there."*fn49

Restrepo then shot the woman in the back of her head, killing her instantly.*fn50 The woman has never been identified.*fn51

d. Sharing of the Proceeds

After the murder, the Porcelana Crew met with Restrepo at Porcelana's house to split the proceeds of the robbery.*fn52 Spigelman and each member of the Porcelana Crew received an equal share of the drugs.*fn53 After some dispute, it was agreed that the Restrepo Crew would get two equal shares for Restrepo and his entire crew.*fn54 Porcelana agreed to bring Spigelman his share of the drugs.*fn55

3. Spigelman's Arrest and Confession

On October 3, 2005, Spigelman was arrested in Florida in connection with the courier's murder.*fn56 Spigelman agreed to speak with the arresting officers and agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI").*fn57 After Spigelman was informed of his Miranda rights and signed a written waiver form, Spigelman told the agents that he "always felt this day would come" and said he would start with the "most serious thing" in which he had ever been involved.*fn58 Spigelman proceeded to describe his role in the robbery and murder of the female drug courier, admitting that he ordered the robbery and acknowledging that the woman had been killed. Spigelman denied, however, that he ordered the murder.

After describing the robbery and murder of the female drug courier to the FBI agents, Spigelman discussed various other robberies and drug deals in which he had been involved, including: (1) giving tips to other robbers about his jewelry customers;*fn59 (2) buying "millions and millions" of dollars worth of stolen property;*fn60 and (3) setting up robberies of people he knew would have kilogram quantities of drugs.*fn61 Although the interview was cut short due to time constraints in the Florida court,*fn62 ...

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