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United States v. Woolaston

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 7, 2020

United States of America,
Tyrone Woolaston, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER


         On February 21, 2019, following a seven-day jury trial that began on February 11, 2019, Defendant Tyrone Woolaston was convicted on two counts of a Superseding Indictment, Dkt. No. 75.[1] See Trial Tr. at 1370-73. The Defendant now moves, pursuant to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 29 and 33, for acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. For the following reasons, the Defendant's motions are denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For purposes of these motions, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the Government and all reasonable inferences are drawn in its favor. United States v. Glenn, 312 F.3d 58, 63 (2d Cir. 2002).

         A. The Charges

         The indictment charged Woolaston with (1) conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A) ("Count One"); and (2) use of a firearm in furtherance of that narcotics conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i) ("Count Two"). The Government alleged that these crimes arose out of Woolaston's participation in a narcotics conspiracy operating in and around Newark Liberty International Airport (the "Airport") to organize the smuggling of luggage containing cocaine shipments from Caribbean islands.

         B. The Trial

         At trial, it was largely undisputed that Woolaston had committed the charged crimes, and the questions before the jury were whether venue was proper and whether Woolaston was entrapped by the Government.

         1. The Government's Case

         At trial, the Government presented evidence in the form of witness testimony, phone records, recordings of wiretap interceptions, text message records, consensual recordings made by the cooperating witness, and law enforcement testimony relating to the Defendant's actions directly preceding his arrest. This evidence proved the following conspiracy.

         a. The Homeland Security Investigation

         The charged conduct arose out of a sting operation. In 2015, a confidential informant reached out to the Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Investigations division with information about what he believed to be a narcotics trafficking network operating out of Newark Airport. Tr. 199. Agents in the division worked with the informant to approach Xavier Williams, who they believed was involved in the network, as a target. They proposed a sting operation in which Williams would use his contacts at the Airport to smuggle cocaine through the airport, but Williams eventually backed out and the proposed transaction never occurred.

         In 2017, however, the contours of a new operation began to take shape. In October 2017, Williams met with a confidential informant and discussed a new transaction: five kilograms of cocaine would be smuggled into the United States by being placed in luggage on an international commercial flight that would arrive at the Airport, after which a contact Williams had at the airport could arrange to have the checked suitcase pulled off the international flight and placed in the baggage claim for a domestic flight. Tr. 476-80; GX 40IT. During this meeting, Williams communicated with Woolaston by text message, and ultimately took the confidential informant to the firehouse at which Woolaston worked a second job as a firefighter. Tr. 484-86; GX 204. There, Woolaston got into the car with Williams and the confidential informant, who discussed the details of the plan: that the cocaine would be shipped from the Caribbean through the airport, the price per kilogram charged for the cocaine, the number of kilograms to be smuggled, and available flights and dates on which the smuggling could occur. GX 403T; Tr. 493-99. The confidential informant asked Woolaston questions about the plan to which Woolaston responded. Id.; Tr. 493-99. Woolaston made various remarks in response, including "it is good, if you're saying it is what it is," stating that he would need to "talk[] to my team," noting that he would need to see if "customs is really watching" the flight, and remarking that a prior flight had gotten "bit." GX 403T.

         In January 2018, the confidential informant again met with Williams. GX 411, 412. He brought $10, 000 in cash as a deposit for the anticipated deal. Tr. 546. Williams placed a FaceTime call to Woolaston in order to show Woolaston this money. Tr. 546-51. Also during the phone call, the confidential informant stated that he would be "in the city" later that day. GX 41 IT. Later that night, Woolaston came to Williams's house, where Williams gave Woolaston some of the cash to put in a safe he stored at Williams's house. Tr. 554-56. Williams told Woolaston that the confidential informant "was in the city, and he would try to call us later." Tr. 556. The confidential informant then called Williams later that evening from his Manhattan hotel to discuss what Williams described as "drug trafficking." Id. The next day, Williams informed the confidential informant that he had spoken with Woolaston, who had asked if they could move up the date of the planned flight. GX 810. Further, over the course of the evening, Williams sent the confidential informant several text messages updating the confidential informant on when Woolaston would be coming over. Id.

         C. The Operation and Arrests

         Following the January 6 meeting, the confidential informant engaged in further telephone and text communications with Williams. In these communications, they agreed that the confidential informant would have five kilograms of cocaine transported to the Airport on an international flight arriving February 10, 2018 and that Williams and Woolaston would smuggle the cocaine through the airport to deliver it to the confidential informant. Tr. 563-64. Unbeknownst to Williams or Woolaston, the Homeland Security Investigations agents planned to package sham cocaine into the anticipated suitcase on the agreed-upon flight and to take delivery of the cocaine from Williams and Woolaston in an undercover operation.

         On February 10, 2018, this is what they did. They placed the sham cocaine, concealed in rum cake tins, into the expected suitcase on an international flight that arrived at the airport that evening. Tr. 207, 215. After the flight unloaded, the suitcase did not arrive at the baggage carousel. Tr. 217. Instead, on a phone call with Williams, Woolaston stated that he had the bag and the pair discussed the narcotics and their packaging. Woolaston stated he was concerned about how the drug transaction would proceed and both defendants indicated that they would have guns. Tr. 576; GX 405T.

         On February 11, 2018, the confidential informant and Williams agreed to meet at a hotel in Secaucus, New Jersey to exchange the drugs for the cash. In anticipation of this meeting, Williams and Woolaston debated whether Williams should hold some of the drugs back as collateral. Tr. 594-602; 409T. Williams ultimately agreed to deliver only a portion of the sham narcotics. Tr. 603-04. Woolaston also assured Williams that he would "come in there blazing" if Williams had an issue during the exchange with the confidential informant. GX 413T; Tr. 594-602.

         Williams and Woolaston arrived at the hotel separately. Tr. 46-48. Law enforcement apprehended Williams carrying a duffel bag containing several kilos of the sham cocaine. They then attempted to apprehend Woolaston: after they approached him in the hotel parking lot, Woolaston dropped his bag and fled, losing his firearm in the ensuing chase. Tr. 48-53, 221. Woolaston surrendered to law enforcement the following day. Tr. 221. Law enforcement recovered the bag Woolaston dropped, which contained tins of sham cocaine, and the firearm, a .40 caliber Glock pistol loaded with an extra-capacity magazine and outfitted with a laser sight. Tr. 50-56, 65.

         Following his arrest, Williams cooperated with law enforcement, including consenting to a search of his residence. Tr. 66. This search revealed a police scanner, money counter, the rum cake tins agents had placed inside the suitcase to conceal the sham cocaine, and a safe Woolaston kept in Williams's basement. The safe contained a pistol, two laser-sights, four pistol magazines, more than one hundred rounds of ammunition, and an ammunition speed-loading device. Tr. 76-84.

         D. Defense Case

         The defense raised the affirmative defense of entrapment. The defense case consisted of consensually recorded telephone calls between the confidential informant and Williams; business records and supporting testimony reflecting the Defendant's attendance record; testimony from the confidential informant and contemporaneous email and text records; and testimony from the Homeland Security Investigations case agents. In its case, the defense argued that Woolaston was absent from work during the purported 2015 transaction. Tr. 887-93. It also elicited testimony that the agents had booked and arranged the Manhattan hotel, and from there instructed the CI to call Williams multiple times. Tr. 993-94

         It further elicited testimony that the confidential informant for the most part worked directly only with Williams. Tr. 901. And the defense elicited testimony it argues goes to Woolaston's resistance to the transaction, including the fact that at some points in 2016 and 2017, Williams may not have been responsive to the confidential informant's overtures, Tr. 910-12, 967, prompting an agent to instruct the confidential informant to "sell" the plan to Woolaston and Williams, Tr. 976; as well as that the confidential informant may have wanted to give deposit money to Woolaston to "lock" him in to the plan. Tr. 962.

         Finally, the defense elicited testimony that it argues went to Williams's credibility, including law enforcement testimony it contends confirmed inconsistent statements Williams made regarding the scope of his prior interactions with Woolaston and his ability to remember his post-arrest interview. Tr. 626-28; Tr. 1050-52.

         E. The Charge

         Judge Sweet instructed the jury on Woolaston's affirmative defense of entrapment and included the instruction that as a matter of law the defense had established the first element, inducement. Tr. 1324-27. Judge Sweet declined, however, to instruct the jury on manufactured venue.

         F. The ...

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