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United States v. Alvarado

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Amarillo Division

November 14, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MARIA D. ALVARADO, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Maria D. Alvarado (“Alvarado”) moves under 18 U.S.C. § 3145(b) to revoke the magistrate judge's pretrial detention order and set a bond for her release pending trial. Following de novo review of the evidence presented at the detention hearing conducted by the magistrate judge, [1] the court denies the motion.

         I

         Alvarado is charged in a one-count indictment with the offense of possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(A)(i). Following Alvarado's arrest, the government moved to detain her, both as a flight risk and as a danger to the community.

         The magistrate judge conducted a detention hearing during which Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) Special Agent John Carson (“Agent Carson”) testified. According to Agent Carson, on October 11, 2017, the DEA Task Force received a call from the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) informing the Task Force that Alvarado was being held in Carson County, Texas on suspected drug charges. Alvarado had been stopped for speeding, and, pursuant to a consent search, DPS troopers had discovered inside the trunk of her car two large travel bags containing two bundles of a substance believed to be heroin.[2]

         According to Agent Carson, he interviewed Alvarado, and she stated that the bags located in the trunk were hers, that she was traveling to North Carolina, that she believed there was money in the bags, that in the past she had transported loads of money between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and that she had worked for a narcotics organization for three months and had transported money for them three times. Although Alvarado denied during the interview that she had transported drugs in the past, she also stated that “you don't know what you're transporting, ” and that “when you walk in and you see a kilo on the table, then you know you are picking up a kilo, ” which led Agent Carson to believe that Alvarado had transported drugs before. Alvarado admitted during the interview that she had been arrested in the past and had been convicted “for narcotics.” Agent Carson also testified that, prior to the detention hearing, he had made an inquiry into Alvarado's crossings into and out of Mexico. He determined based on the report he received that, in the past two years, Alvarado had made approximately 65 crossings into the United States from Mexico.

         Alvarado testified that she is a Mexican citizen but has lived in Pasadena, California since she was four years old (she is now 41 years old). She stated that she had been to Tijuana for dental work, parties, to visit the doctor, and to drive people to the airport, but that she did not have any family in or ties to Mexico. According to Alvarado, all of her children reside in the United States; she is a naturalized U.S. citizen; she is currently employed in the United States by her sister Ana Lucia Garcia's (“Garcia's”) catering company; she intends to continue her employment; and she would be willing for Garcia to serve as her custodian.[3]Alvarado also testified that she did not intend to flee to Mexico and that she is willing to abide by any conditions the court imposes to assure her appearance in the future, including surrending her passport. Alvarado stated that she has never in the past failed to appear in court when required.

         Alvarado has a criminal history that includes, inter alia, driving with a suspended license and possession of a controlled substance. In 2011 Alvarado was convicted for possession of three ounces of methamphetamine. She testified that she had purchased the methamphetamine for a friend (not for her own personal use) from a known drug dealer, and that the friend paid her for the methamphetamine.

         Alvarado testified that, before her October 11, 2017 arrest, her sister (Garcia) was also arrested in Carson County for suspected money laundering. She stated that the $15, 000 that her sister was transporting at the time of her arrest was Alavarado's savings, which Alvarado had accidentally left in her car at the time that Garcia and their other sister (Susanna) had borrowed it to travel to an unknown destination. Alvarado's probation report shows that her monthly cash flow is $110, but Alvarado testified that she frequently purchases vehicles from Craig's List or at auctions (sometimes from out of state), fixes them, and then sells them at a profit. She also testified that, on previous occasions, she had transported money from Nevada to Los Angeles for someone named “Juan.” She stated that Juan was a friend, that she did not know his last name, and that she transported the money for him as a favor.

         Sandra Robles (“Robles”), who lives about five miles away from Alvarado[4] and has dated Alvarado's brother for 10 years, testified that she is willing to take custody of Alvarado. Robles stated that she does not have a criminal history, does not have a driver license, and is unemployed (she has rheumatoid arthritis and receives a monthly disability check). She testified that she would be able to check on Alvarado, but that she would have to get a ride to Alvarado's residence from Alvarado's brother. Robles testified that she was surprised to hear the allegations against Alvarado, was not aware that Alvarado had been involved in the transportation of narcotics and money, and was not aware that Alvarado's sister (Garcia) had been arrested. Robles testified that she had visited Mexico four to five times over the past two years for dental work. Although she initially testified that she had not traveled outside of California and Nevada, she later acknowledged more extensive travel throughout the United States and Mexico.

         Following the hearing, the magistrate judge ordered Alvarado detained without bond pending trial, finding by clear and convincing evidence that there is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure the safety of the community, and by a preponderance of the evidence that there is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure Alvarado's appearance at future court proceedings. The magistrate judge based these findings on the offense conduct and Alvarado's role, the number of trips Alvarado had made to Mexico within the recent past, the fact that Alvarado had in the past crossed into Mexico without a passport, the fact that Alvarado's family members were unaware of her prior illegal activity, the fact that Alvarado had in the past been arrested for possession of a substantial amount of methamphetamine that was purchased from a known drug dealer for the purpose of selling to others, and Alvarado's history of driving large sums of money across the country. Alvarado now seeks review of the detention order.

         II

         A

         An individual shall be released pending trial unless a judicial officer finds that “no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of any other person and the community.” 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(1). Alvarado is charged with a violation of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., that is, the offense of possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), punishable under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(i) by imprisonment for a period that “may not be less than 10 years.” Under the Bail Reform Act, the existence of probable cause-here, the grand jury indictment-to believe that Alvarado committed this offense creates a rebuttable presumption that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of Alvarado as required and the safety of any other person and the community. See 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3)(A) and (f)(1)(C). “The presumption shifts to the defendant only the burden of producing rebutting evidence, not the burden of persuasion.” United States v. Hare, 873 F.2d ...


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