Attorney Can’t Block Evidence in Drug Trial

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A prosecuting attorney from Columbia indicted on conspiracy charges for aiding a drug trafficking organization cannot suppress evidence before his trial, a federal judge ruled.
     In all, District Judge John D. Bates denied 10 motions by defendant Ramiro Anturi Larrahondo in his August 15 opinion.
     Anturi has been indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute 5 kilos or more of cocaine on board a vessel, and one count of conspiracy for doing so with the intention of importing the cocaine into the U.S.
     Federal prosecutors allege Anturi was part of a drug traffficking organization (DTO) that transported tons of cocaine from Columbia to Central America, and that he received cash payments for providing the organization with information investigators had gathered about it.
     According to the opinion, “The DTO allegedly made cash payments to Anturi in exchange for sensitive information about the investigation of the DTO and to protect the DTO from law enforcement.”
     Most of Anturi’s co-defendants have pled guilty or are engaged in plea discussions, but Anturi is scheduled to go on trial October 15, and in his filings he sought the following: Determination of the admissibility of co-conspirator statements, the exclusion of events pre-dating his alleged involvement in the conspiracy, production of transcripts and of an informant’s file, to strike aliases, to suppress post-arrest statements made to the DEA and wiretap evidence, to unseal co-defendants’ plea agreements and proceedings, to dismiss one superceding indictment and to compel discovery.
     The government’s evidence against him includes 140 intercepted calls and recorded conversations, a bank receipt reflecting a bribe from the DTO to Anturi, a government document given to the DTO by Anturi containing information about the DTO’s trafficking activities, documents retrieved from Anturi’s computer drive and a transcript of Anturi being interviewed by a federal agent.
     “Anturi argues that the government does not have sufficient evidence to connect him with the narcotics conspiracy because the phone calls directly involving him began almost seven months after the last seizure of cocaine, are with two persons who have never been identified as co-conspirators in the case, and appear to be unrelated to drug trafficking.”
     In addition “Anturi indicates that, to his knowledge, the evidence involving drug trafficking occurred from December 2008 to April 2009, that he was not involved in the conspiracy during this time period, and that, in his view, the conspiracy terminated before he is alleged to have joined.”
     Judge Bates disagreed, saying Anturi “incorrectly perceived the nature of the charges against him” and “misstates the law.”
     “The government can introduce evidence at trial about drug trafficking predating defendant’s joinder in the conspiracy because that evidence may be relevant to proving that the defendant was a member of a conspiracy to traffic more than five kilograms of cocaine.”
     Bates cited Supreme Court precedent in Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000) and D.C. precedent in U.S. v. Fields (2003), that could limit the amount of evidence at Anturi’s trial if the government has “more than sufficiently proved that the DTO was trafficking large quantities of cocaine,” and because “drug quantity is an element of the offense.”
     Bates said it was not appropriate to make such a determination before trial or to have a “mini-trial” before the actual trial by determining the degree of Anturi’s involvement, which Anturi claims was “too minimal or benign to constitute ‘belonging’ to the conspiracy.”
     Bates also said that it had turned over sufficient transcripts – 112 in total – to Anturi. Bates also disagreed with Anturi that circuit courts were “split” on the issue of turning over files from the DEA and Columbia National Police regarding the confidential informant, especially when the informant does not testify at trial and is not a government official.
     Anturi was referred to as “fiscal” and “doctor” (“El Doctor” and “El Fiscal” indicate “lawyer” and “prosecutor” in Spanish, according to a footnote in the opinion) in various taped phone calls. Bates only said the government should not call these Anturi’s “aliases.”
     Bates also disagreed that the DEA agents who arrested Anturi in Bogota, Columbia had such “questionable” Spanish-speaking skills that it would unfairly prejudice him.
     Supreme Court precedent in U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990) would allow suppression of wiretap evidence, only if that “evidence was gathered in a manner shocking the conscience,” not the case here.
     Anturi knowingly met and used the personal ranch of a well-known drug trafficker, one of the government’s confidential informants in the case. The informant paid Anturi to remove his name from a criminal investigation and tipped him off about another.
     As to the remaining motions, Bates wrote, “Finally, the Court determines that, at least at this time, the evidence must be admitted as Rule 404(b) evidence, rather than evidence ‘intrinsic’ to the charged crimes […] evidence is not necessarily intrinsic simply because it ‘completes the story’ or ‘explains the circumstances’ of the charged offense.”
     He said depending on how facts develop in trial, the court may adjust evidence admissibility at that time.

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