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United States v. Garcia-Lopez

United States District Court, District of Arizona

May 6, 2015

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Manuel de Jesus Garcia-Lopez, et al., Defendants.



Before the court are Defendants’ Motions to Suppress (Doc. 57, 61). For the reasons that follow, the Motions will be denied.


During an investigation of the Castro drug trafficking organization, agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) learned in 2012 that Indalecio Castro-Ponce had delivered narcotics to California, Nevada, and Arizona as part of a drug-smuggling operation that involved a man known as Lalo. (Doc. 57-1 at 22.) Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson authorized interception of Lalo’s phone, which was designated Target Telephone 1 (“TT 1”), on December 10, 2012. (Id. at 25.) Based on information obtained from TT 1, as well as other sources, HSI Special Agents Christian Murphy and Andrew Thompson submitted a warrant application and supporting affidavit to Judge Nelson on January 8, 2013, seeking authorization to intercept calls on Defendant Manuel de Jesus Garcia-Lopez’s phone, which HSI labeled Target Telephone 3 (“TT 3”). (Id. at 67-68).

According to that affidavit, HSI intercepted a call between TT 1 and TT 3 on December 11, 2012. (Id. at 25.) HSI initiated signal tracking of TT 3 and determined that the phone belonged to Garcia-Lopez. On December 20, 2012, HSI obtained a warrant, signed by Yuma County Superior Court Judge David Haws, that authorized them to install a mobile tracking device on Garcia-Lopez’s vehicle for ninety days. The court has previously upheld the lawfulness of that warrant. (See Doc. 72.)

The tracking device revealed that between December 29 and December 31, 2012, Garcia-Lopez visited the Morongo Casino and Resort in Cabazon, California. (Doc. 57-1 at 26.) While in California, Garcia-Lopez spoke over the phone with Lalo and “stated that he was giving his friend a ride to look at some farming machinery in Arizona.” (Id.) Special Agents Murphy and Thompson wrote in their affidavit that they did “not know why [Garcia-Lopez] was not honest with LALO about where he was, but based on your Affiants’ training and experience, and the training and experience of their fellow agents, it is known that narcotics traffickers will often keep trafficking operations secret from trafficking associates in order to avoid having to share the profits of the venture with additional people.” (Id.)

On December 14, 2012, agents intercepted a call between TT 1 and a new number, 128*754*124. (Id. at 27.) Through signal tracking technology and a records check, HSI identified the user of the 128*754*124 number as Jorge Cordova. (Id.) The next day, “LALO told CORDOVA that he had left 3 ‘girls’ with ‘Manuel.’” (Id.) The affidavit interprets this comment to mean that “‘Manuel’ is [Garcia-Lopez], and the girls are 3 units of an unknown illegal drug.” (Id.) Signal tracking demonstrated that the user of the 128*754*124 number “had crossed through the San Luis, AZ Port of Entry (POE) sometime between 12:00 and 12:15” on December 15, 2012, and a “check of the border crossing records showed that a Jorge CORDOVA-Ortega (03/18/1951) crossed through the POE at 12:01.” (Id.)

Pursuant to Judge Nelson’s December 10, 2012 order, HSI intercepted a call between TT 1 and TT 3 on December 29, 2012. (Id. at 42.) On that call, Lalo remarked that Garcia-Lopez had stopped answering his phone and asked whether Garcia-Lopez had placed Lalo on the bench. (Id.) Garcia-Lopez denied placing Lalo on the bench, and the two men briefly discussed horse-racing. (Id. at 42-43.) Lalo then asked Garcia-Lopez whether he would work again on Sunday. (Id. at 43.) Garcia-Lopez responded that he did not know, and mentioned that he was “over by some ranches with a buddy who came to see some machinery.” (Id.) According to the affidavit, “When LALO asks if [Garcia-Lopez] placed him on the bench, he is asking if [Garcia-Lopez] is no longer using LALO in his trafficking operations. . . . Your Affiant asserts that when LALO says work, he is referring to narcotics trafficking.” (Id.) The affidavit also asserts that Garcia-Lopez lied to Lalo when he said he was “over by some ranches.” (Id.) In fact, both “Signal Tracking Technology and the Mobile Tracking Device showed that [Garcia-Lopez] was traveling to Cabazon, CA at the time of this call and was located on California Highway 86 on the east side of the Salton Sea.” (Id.) The affidavit concludes: “clearly, [Garcia-Lopez] did not want LALO to know what he was actually doing.” (Id.)

In addition to reciting the above facts, the affidavit contains the results of a “toll analysis” Special Agents Murphy and Thompson conducted of TT 3. That analysis shows that between November 20, 2012, and December 31, 2012, TT 3 made thirteen outgoing calls to 72*12*23900, a telephone number belonging to someone who goes by the alias Alguate. (Id. at 32, 44.) The affidavit describes Alguate as “one of LALO’s most frequently contacted numbers” and as being “involved in the sales and distribution of narcotics.” (Id. at 32.) The Drug Enforcement Administration had previously intercepted calls Alguate made during a state wiretap in Carlsbad, California. (Id.) During one November 9, 2011 call, Alguate, using the same number, “was complaining about a missing load of narcotics that was lost by the targets of that Carlsbad investigation and subsequently stopped communicating with those targets.” (Id.) He was also intercepted as part of another DEA investigation in Riverside, California. (Id.) “During these calls, ” the affidavit explains, “which occurred between January 31, 2012 and March 1, 2012, ALGUATE was the Mexicali source of supply who was supplying 10 pound quantities of methamphetamine to targets of the Riverside investigation approximately every two weeks.” (Id. at 32-33.) Finally, “ALGUATE, using 72*12*23900, was also intercepted during another DEA wiretap investigation of a target known as CHALINO.” (Id. at 33.)

The toll analysis also demonstrates that between November 25, 2012, and December 25, 2012, TT 3 made twenty-six outgoing calls to 128*753*190. (Id. at 44.) On December 20, 2012, that number made a call to TT 1 in which the dialer-known as UM 3190-told Lalo “he was trying to work with some new people.” (Id.) He also said “he was working with some cholos and would let LALO know if anything came up because things are slow.” (Id.) The affidavit interprets those comments as follows: “When UM 3190 says he is trying to work with some new people, your Affiant asserts that he is saying that he is going to start smuggling narcotics with a new smuggling cell. When UM 3190 says that he is working with some ‘cholos’ he is referring to gang members.” (Id.)

On January 8, 2013, Judge Nelson, relying on the affidavit submitted by Special Agents Murphy and Thompson, signed an order authorizing state and local agents to intercept calls made by and to TT 3. The order also authorized interception of calls on a phone known as Target Telephone 2 (“TT 2”) and renewed authorization for interception of TT 1. (Id. at 18.)

Signal tracking of TT 3 indicated that on January 21, 2013, Garcia-Lopez traveled to the Phoenix home of “a woman known only as ‘GUERA.’” (Doc. 61-1 at 15.) He then returned to the home of Defendant Maria Concepcion Ramirez in Yuma, “where he called an unidentified female (UF) and explained that a bundle of cash was short $200.” (Id.) Two days later, on January 23, 2013, agents intercepted a call between Garcia-Lopez and the UF in which Garcia-Lopez said he would travel to Phoenix that night and meet with the UF the next morning. (Id.) On the morning of January 24, 2013, Garcia- Lopez spoke over the phone with the UF several times and made arrangements “to pick something up.” (Id.) Agents “observed [Garcia-Lopez] drive to GUERA’S house and pick up a small cardboard box, then begin driving back to Yuma.” (Id.) Before he arrived at Guera’s house, “an UF was seen leaving” the premises. (Id.)

Agents asked the Yuma County Sheriff’s Department to pull over Garcia-Lopez’s car. (Id.) He was stopped for speeding and following too close, and during a consent search, a drug-sniffing dog alerted to a box containing $509, 275 in cash. (Id. at 15-16.) When sheriff’s deputies asked Garcia-Lopez for his home address, he provided a Yuma address that was foreclosed on in 2012 for failure to pay property taxes and make mortgage payments. (Id. at 16.) He also told deputies he worked for Figo Harvesting, but state records show he received no wages from that company in 2011 or the first quarter of 2012; the “company reported no wages for the second quarter of 2012, and wages for the third and fourth quarter of 2012 were not available.” (Id. at 14, 16.) The affidavit submitted by Special Agents Murphy and Thompson characterizes these statements as evidence that Garcia-Lopez “is attempting to cover up his actual home address and employer.” (Id. at 17.)

Following Judge Nelson’s January 8, 2013 order, HSI also intercepted Garcia-Lopez making or receiving several phone calls that they contend pertain to drug trafficking and the smuggling of cash proceeds back to Mexico. (Id. at 2-3.) For example, on January 21, 2013, Garcia-Lopez made a call to a number associated with what came to be known as Target Telephone 4 (“TT 4”). (Id. at 25.) Sprint records indicate TT 4 belongs to Ramirez. (Id. at 28.) Ramirez said she was “out there buying what they will need, ” which the affidavit contends ...

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