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United States v. Almeida

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

November 10, 2017




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on the Motion to Suppress (Doc. 141) and the supplement thereto (Doc. 160), which were filed by Defendant Andrew Cassara, and which Defendant Juan Almeida has adopted in part, (Doc. Nos. 157, 165, 179). The Government filed a Response (Doc. 163), and an evidentiary hearing was held on October 27, 2017, (Min. Entry, Doc. 168).

         I. Background

         Defendants in this case have been charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance-marijuana-and Defendants Almeida and Cassara have been charged with knowingly possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. (Indictment, Doc. 1, at 1-2). During its investigation, the Government executed six search warrants-five property search warrants and one vehicle tracking warrant. Defendants have now moved to suppress the fruits of five of those searches, arguing that there was not probable cause on the face of the affidavits in support of the warrants and that the warrants contain numerous material omissions and misleading facts. The warrants were issued in succession, and each affidavit in support of the warrants built upon information disclosed in the previous affidavits. The specific facts of each search warrant will be discussed below.

         II. Legal Framework

         To obtain a search warrant, law enforcement must “convince the authorizing magistrate that probable cause exists for the search.” United States v. Pendleton, 447 F. App'x 978, 981 (11th Cir. 2011). “Probable cause to support a search warrant exists when the totality of the circumstances allow a conclusion that there is a fair probability of finding contraband or evidence at a particular location.” United States v. Brundidge, 170 F.3d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir. 1999). “[P]robable cause is a fluid concept-turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts-not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983). “[A] magistrate's determination of probable cause should be paid great deference by reviewing courts.” Gates, 462 U.S. at 236 (quotation omitted).

         Further, “[a]ffidavits supporting warrants are presumptively valid.” United States v. Lebowitz, 676 F.3d 1000, 1010 (11th Cir. 2012); see also Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 171 (1978). “A defendant may challenge the validity of the government's affidavit by making a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement was included in the warrant affidavit knowingly and intentionally or with reckless disregard for the truth.” United States v. Gamory, 635 F.3d 480, 490 (11th Cir. 2011). “In order to be entitled to relief a defendant must show not only that misrepresentations or omissions were intentionally or recklessly made, but also that, absent those misrepresentations or omissions, probable cause would have been lacking.” United States v. Novaton, 271 F.3d 968, 987 (11th Cir. 2001).

         III. Analysis

         A. Location 1


         The first warrant was issued on February 10, 2015, and it authorized the search of a specified storage unit located at Vista Self Storage in Orlando, Florida (“Location 1”). The affidavit in support of the Location 1 search warrant (“Affidavit 1, ” Joint Ex. 1) was authored by Special Agent Joshua Baker, and it describes the activities related to a suspected drug trafficking organization (“DTO”) in Orlando, Florida, operated by individuals that were from the Dominican Republic. (See generally id.). The Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) suspected that Defendants Cassara and Almeida were working with another individual, Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido, who was located in South Africa, to facilitate the DTO. (See Id. ¶¶ 1, 10). DEA agents employed a confidential source (“CS”) and two undercover agents-Leo Conde and Junny Valerio-to gain information regarding the suspected DTO and Defendants. (See Id. ¶¶ 10, 14).

         Agent Baker received information from a DEA Agent in Los Angeles, California, that the CS had information about the DTO and that the CS had been instructed by Yester-Garrido to travel to Orlando. (Id. ¶ 10). On February 2, 2015, the CS met with Agent Baker and another special agent and informed them that he was to meet with two individuals regarding a drug debt owed to Yester-Garrido. (Id. ¶ 11). The CS told the agents that his instructions from Yester-Garrido were to re-establish a relationship with “the Dominican DTO” because it owed Yester-Garrido approximately $250, 000 for drugs that had been delivered to the DTO but had not been paid for. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15). According to the CS, over the previous five years-until the issue of the debt arose-the Dominican DTO had purchased approximately 200 pounds of marijuana per week from Yester-Garrido, paying him approximately $800, 000 per month. (Id.).

         On the same day, the CS and the Undercover Agents met with two individuals as directed by Yester-Garrido-Defendant Cassara and an unidentified individual referred to as “UCC-1.” (Id. ¶ 14). During this meeting, Cassara and UCC-1 discussed the drug debt and re-establishing the relationship with the Dominican DTO. (Id.). From there, all of the individuals at the meeting drove to Sanford, Florida, to meet with a representative of the DTO. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16). There, they met with a Dominican individual named Jose Quijada Garcia. (Id. ¶ 16). The CS told Quijada Garcia that they were there as representatives of Yester-Garrido to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement and continue the relationship between the DTO and Yester-Garrido. (Id.). No agreement was made at that time, but Quijada Garcia and the CS agreed to continue negotiations. (Id.).

         Two days later, on February 4, 2015, the CS and Undercover Agent Valerio met with Defendants Cassara and Almeida. (Id. ¶ 17). Almeida wanted to arrange another meeting with Quijada Garcia, and Almeida suggested possible terms of the debt repayment, which generally involved charging the DTO a higher price per pound of marijuana and using the additional money to pay off the debt. (Id.). Two days after that meeting, on February 6, 2015, the CS and Undercover Agent Valerio again met with Cassara and Almeida. (Id. ¶ 19). Cassara relayed the details of a plan to sell the DTO twenty-five pounds of marijuana for the higher price. (Id.). Specifically, Cassara stated that on February 9, 2015, the CS would meet Cassara with a white Dodge truck, Cassara would then load twenty-five pounds of marijuana into the truck and leave it in a then-undetermined location where a representative from the DTO would pick it up and leave the money. (Id.).

         On February 9, 2015, the CS and Undercover Agent Conde were instructed by Yester-Garrido to meet with Quijada Garcia to finalize the sale. (Id. ¶ 21). They did so, and Quijada Garcia agreed with a few modifications. (Id.). The transaction would occur on February 10, 2015, and the marijuana would be given on consignment with payment being received later that same day. (Id.). After the meeting with Quijada Garcia, the CS and Undercover Agent Conde met with Cassara. (Id. ¶ 22). Cassara stated that he would package the marijuana in a suit case, place it in the back of the white Dodge pickup truck, and leave the truck in the area of Semoran Boulevard in Orlando, Florida. (Id.). The plan was for the DTO representatives to retrieve the truck and return it later with the money. (Id.).

         Immediately upon leaving this meeting, Cassara drove to the Location 1 storage unit. (Id. ¶ 23). Special Agent Baker and other law enforcement officers followed Cassara. (Id.). After Cassara passed through the gate to the storage unit property, Agent Baker went into the office and spoke with the property manager. (Id.). The property manager informed Agent Baker that Cassara had rented the Location 1 unit, paying $600 cash for a one-month lease. (Id.). In the office, Agent Baker was also able to see the closed-circuit television (“CCTV”) security monitors. (Id.). On the monitors, Agent Baker observed Cassara drive his black Dodge pickup truck to Location ...

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