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United States v. Estrada

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

June 5, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
VICTOR MANUEL ESTRADA, Defendant/Movant. CA. No. 2:16-511

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN D. RAINEY SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant/Movant Victor Manuel Estrada (Estrada) filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. D.E. 51. Pending before the Court is the Government's motion to dismiss (D.E. 56), to which Estrada did not reply.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Estrada was indicted in October 2014 for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana. The Indictment also sought forfeiture of property and/or currency. He was arrested in California and made his initial appearance later the same month. The Government identified eleven cases related to Estrada's.

         Estrada entered into a plea agreement with the Government on February 17, 2015. In exchange for Estrada's guilty plea, the Government agreed to recommend that he receive maximum credit for acceptance of responsibility “and a sentence of imprisonment at the lowest end of the applicable guideline range.” D.E. 27, ¶ 2. The agreement included a waiver of Estrada's right to appeal or to file a § 2255 motion. Id., ¶ 7. The agreement also stated, “The defendant is aware that the sentence will be determined with reference to the United States Sentencing Commission's Guideline Manual (U.S.S.G.).” Id., ¶ 6.

         During rearraignment, Estrada testified that he voluntarily signed the plea agreement, discussed it with counsel, understood it, and was not promised anything other than set out in the agreement.[1] The Court reviewed the waiver of his right of appeal and § 2255 rights. Estrada testified that he discussed the waiver with counsel and agreed to waive those rights.[2] The Court advised Estrada of the punishment range of a minimum of 10 years up to life imprisonment, at least 5 years' supervised release, potential fines, and a special assessment of $100. Estrada testified that he understood. The Court further informed Estrada of the trial rights available to him. He testified that he understood those rights and understood that if he pled guilty he would be giving up those rights.

         The Government provided a factual recitation regarding the conspiracy, including details that Estrada provided false identification papers and instructed drivers that he solicited how to open multiple bank accounts, lease warehouses, and buy trucks. When the Government finished detailing Estrada's involvement, Estrada admitted he was involved in the conspiracy, but he denied that the Government's account was correct. The Court accepted Estrada's guilty plea.

         The Court ordered the U.S. Probation Office to prepare a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR). D.E. 169. The PSR determined that Estrada was responsible for 8318.5 kilograms of marijuana, which resulted in a base offense level of 32. The base level was enhanced by four for leadership role. After credit for acceptance of responsibility, Estrada's total offense level was 33. His criminal history category was III, resulting in a guideline range of 168 to 210 months, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. Estrada's counsel filed objections to the PSR relating to leadership role and various factual assertions.

         Sentencing was held on May 18, 2015. The Government brought three witnesses to testify to Estrada's role in the conspiracy. All were convicted of participation in a marijuana conspiracy and were awaiting sentencing in related cases.

         Anthony Yasonia testified that he met with Estrada once for several hours. Estrada solicited Yasonia to work with the organization as a driver to transport marijuana. Yasonia testified he was not the only driver Estrada recruited. During their meeting, Estrada “laid down the basic rules and we had to follow as a driver -- you know, how we had to obtain a passport, how to set up different bank accounts so we could purchase the truck. And, also, one thing that he reiterated to me was having a direct phone with my contact info.” D.E. 44, p. 16. Yasonia further testified, “To my knowledge, I believe he ran the guys that processed the marijuana down here in South Texas and also provided warehouses and things, stuff like that, and ran those guys on the Atlantic side.” Id., p. 18. The organization operated in South Texas, Chicago, Atlanta, and California. Estrada “was the go-to guy to get the false identification to be able to apply for different warehouses and even houses, but more so for the warehouses to receive the marijuana.” Id., p. 19. Yasonia further described Estrada's involvement, “I knew he had a detail shop, but I also knew that he financed a couple of the prior runs, purchasing the marijuana, supplying the money for them, and he was involved with a lot of other things.” Id., p. 29.

         Ivan Flores-Ruiz testified that he obtained identification from Estrada. “It was practically a packet which came with a birth certificate from Puerto Rico and a Social Security.” Id., p. 35. Flores-Ruiz used the false identity to open a warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia, to receive shipments of marijuana. Estrada also rented warehouses directly using various false identities. The third witness also testified that Estrada recruited two drivers and arranged for a false identity for him. He knew of four false identities that Estrada arranged.

         The Court overruled Estrada's objections to the PSR and assessed four levels for leadership role. The Government recommended the Court sentence Estrada to 168 months, the lowest sentence in the applicable guideline range. After hearing further argument, the Court sentenced Estrada to 168 months' imprisonment to be followed by 5 years' supervised release. The Court reminded Estrada that he waived his right to appeal.

         Estrada appealed. The Fifth Circuit enforced the waiver of his right to appeal after finding that Estrada “knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to appeal his sentence except in limited circumstances not present in the instant appeal.” United States v. Estrada, No. 15-40742 at *2 (5th Cir. June 9, 2016) (per curiam) (unpublished). The Fifth Circuit further held that “Estrada has not established a breach of the plea agreement on either point.” Id.

         The Clerk received Estrada's § 2255 motion on December 5, 2016. It is timely.

         II. MOVANT'S ALLEGATIONS

         Estrada's § 2255 motion raises several grounds: 1) the Government violated his due process rights by breaching the plea agreement; 2) counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to raise the Government's breach of the plea agreement in the district court or on appeal; 3) counsel induced Estrada to plead guilty by a promise that his sentence would be 108 to 135 months imprisonment; 4) the district court erred in assessing a leadership role; and 5) Estrada is entitled to a minor role adjustment pursuant Amendment 794.

         The Government moved to dismiss the motion and to enforce Estrada's waiver to file a § 2255 motion. The Government did not address Estrada's motion ...


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