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United States v. Dejesus

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 6, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
WILBERTO DeJESUS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LAURA TAYLOR SWAIN, District Judge.

Defendant Wilberto DeJesus ("Defendant") is charged, in the above-captioned indictment, with distribution and possession with intent to distribute 3, 4-methylenedioxy-Nethylcathinone ("MDEC, " commonly known as ethylone) in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C). Defendant has moved to suppress all statements he allegedly made to law enforcement following his arrest in connection with a controlled delivery of a package.

The Court held an evidentiary hearing on January 7, 2015. At the suppression hearing, the Government presented the testimony of Department of Homeland Security Investigations unit ("HSI") Special Agents Manuel DeCastro and Maria Stavropoulos.[1] Defendant submitted an Affirmation in advance of the hearing (docket entry no. 18) and a post-hearing Affirmation (docket entry no. 36). The Court observed each witness carefully and has reviewed thoroughly the evidence and the pre- and post-hearing submissions of the parties. This Memorandum Opinion and Order constitutes the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. To the extent any finding of fact includes conclusions of law it is deemed a conclusion of law, and vice versa. For the following reasons, Defendant's suppression motion is denied.

FINDINGS OF FACT

Agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") at John F. Kennedy International Airport seized a package mailed from China, which contained ethylone. (Tr. at 7-8.) The package was addressed to Jorge Diaz at 241 West 101st Street, Apartment 7F, New York, NY. (Tr. at 8.) The CBP agents turned the package over to HSI for further investigation. (Id.) Special Agent Maria Stavropoulos was assigned to lead the investigation and was supervised by Special Agent Manuel Decastro. (Tr. at 8, 29.)

HSI agents attempted a controlled delivery of the package to the address provided on July 2, 2014, but were unsuccessful. (Tr. at 9-10, 31.) During the course of the investigation, Special Agent Stavropoulos queried an unspecified database for information regarding the address in question, and received "New York City" as the search result, indicating that the apartment was subsidized by the New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA"). (Tr. at. 69.) Special Agent Stavropoulos "was [later] told by the New York City Housing Authority that the sole authorized occupant of the apartment was one Deolinia Ruiz." (Id.)

The HSI agents made a second attempt to deliver the package on July 14, 2014. (Tr. at 11, 72.) HSI Special Agent James Flynn, disguised as a delivery person from a company called TNT, knocked on the door of Apartment 7F. (Tr. at 7, 9, 11, 36.) Defendant answered the door and signed for the package, writing the name "J. Diaz, " and then Defendant was immediately placed under arrest. (Tr. at 11, 37, 61.) During his arrest, Defendant was patted down, and the HSI agents discovered two knives and a screwdriver on his person. (Tr. at 12, 64; see also Gov't Ex. B (photograph of the items found on Defendant's person during the search).) After Defendant's arrest, at least five HSI agents conducted a "security sweep" of the apartment with guns drawn, to determine whether there were "additional persons in the apartment that may be a threat to the agents." (Tr. at 12, 39-40, 65.) The agents did not ask for permission to conduct the "security sweep." (Tr. at 39-40.) During the security sweep, the agents first encountered Ms. Ruiz in the living room. (Tr. at 14, 65, 79-80). Special Agent Stavropoulos spoke to Ms. Ruiz during the sweep, who was generally unresponsive but did state that she understood that the agents were conducting the sweep, and identified Defendant as her husband or boyfriend. (Tr. at 65, 72.) Special Agent DeCastro also spoke to Ms. Ruiz, asking her for her "identifiers" in both English and Spanish, but received no response. (Tr. at 23.)

Following the security sweep, Special Agents DeCastro, Stavropoulos, and Eddie Alahverdian were directed by Defendant into his bedroom so that they could speak privately. (Tr. at 14-15, 61.) The agents asked Defendant if he lived at the apartment; Defendant replied that it belonged to Defendant and Ms. Ruiz, his girlfriend. (Tr. at 68.) Special Agent Stavropoulos then stated to Defendant that the agents knew that he was not the legal occupant of the apartment, but rather that it belonged solely to Ms. Ruiz, and that NYCHA had not authorized him to live in the apartment. (Tr. at 68-69.) Special Agent Stavropoulos testified that she said to Defendant that:

[Defendant] wasn't authorized to live in [the apartment] and he wasn't authorized to conduct a drug operation out of that apartment because that could affect [Ms. Diaz's] ability to keep the apartment, so that he wasn't doing her any favors by running a drug operation in there.

(Tr. at 70.) Special Agent Stavropoulos "asked the [D]efendant to be truthful with [the agents] going forward." (Tr. at 69.) Special Agent Stavropoulos further testified that she said this to him to "let [Defendant] know that [the agents] did some research ahead of time and that [they] would like him not to lie to [them]." (Tr. at 69.)

Defendant's account of this interaction, presented in the form of an Affirmation, differs from that of the agents who testified. Defendant asserted that:

I was taken into the bedroom, where I was asked questions about the package. I was standing up. More than one agent was talking to me at the same time. One of the agents was yelling at me. He said, among other things, that I better tell him something that he wants to hear, or else Ms. Ruiz would lose the apartment. He said something along the lines of the apartment belonging to the city, ' and that if I didn't tell him something that he wanted to hear, Ms. Ruiz would lose her apartment because she would be held responsible for the drugs that were in the package.

(Docket entry no. 18, ¶ 9.) Defendant identified the agent yelling at him as Special Agent DeCastro. (Docket entry no. 36, ¶ 3.) Defendant further affirmed that "[he] was sure that Ms. Ruiz - who was in the living room - could hear what the loud-talking agent was saying, and that the threat of losing her apartment could cause Ms. Ruiz to have a mental breakdown." (Docket entry no. 18, ¶ 10.)

Three agents entered the bedroom with Defendant - Special Agents Stavropoulos, Decastro, and Alahverdian. (Tr. at 15-16, 66, 83.) Inside the small bedroom was a bed frame, without a mattress, and some additional furniture, but no place to sit. (Tr. at 66, 15.) Defendant remained in handcuffs during this period because the agents felt it was necessary for them to safely conduct the interview given the weapons they had earlier found on Defendant's person. (Tr. at 16, 66, 68.) The agents asked Defendant about his criminal history, and Defendant reported that he had been arrested before. (Tr. at 16.) Special Agent DeCastro ordered another agent to run a criminal history query on Defendant, and the agents determined that he had "an extensive criminal history." (Tr. at 16.) After discovering Defendant's extensive criminal history, Special Agent DeCastro instructed the Defendant not to speak further, and told him that he had the right to remain silent, and that anything he did say could be used against him. (Tr. at 17.) Special Agent DeCastro further informed Defendant that ...


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