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United States v. Mendoza

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

May 21, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
BRYAN MENDOZA, Defendant/Movant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          NELVA GONZALES RAMOS JUDGE.

         Defendant/Movant Bryan Mendoza filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and memorandum of law in support. D.E. 23 8.[1]Pending before the Court is the United States of America's (the "Government") Motion for Judgment on the Record (D.E. 247), to which Movant responded (D.E. 251).[2] For the reasons stated herein, the Government's motion is GRANTED and Movant's § 2255' motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2016, Movant was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1, 000 kilograms of marijuana and more than 5 kilograms of cocaine (Count One), conspiracy to launder money (Count Two), and three counts of money laundering (Counts Three, Six, and Eight). Movant pled guilty to Count One before a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to a written Plea Agreement (D.E. 165).

         At rearraignment, the AUSA offered a summary of the offense conduct to support a rinding of guilt on the conspiracy charge. Rearraign. Tr., D.E. 243 at 21:16-25:23. He stated that, between February 2009 and June 2016, Movant's father-in law, Ramon Valencia Morfin, operated a large drug trafficking organization. The organization, which was based in South Texas, was responsible for bringing large quantities of marijuana and cocaine from interior Mexico, across the Rio Grande River, and into various locations in the United States, including Illinois, Georgia, and several other states. Between 2009 and 2016, the Government seized a total of 6, 768 kilograms of marijuana attributed to the organization. Movant assisted by transporting drugs north out of South Texas and transporting money back south. In addition, Movant opened a J.P. Morgan Chase Bank account through which $33, 340 in drug proceeds passed between 2012 and 2015. Movant also used more than $80, 000 cash in drug proceeds to purchase a BMW 3281 and Chevrolet Silverado truck. Finally, agents found $25, 000 cash hidden in a bathroom light socket in Movant's home at the time of his arrest, which was believed to be proceeds from drugs that were transported from Texas to either Illinois or Georgia. Movant acknowledged that the Government's factual recitation was correct and that he was guilty as charged. Id. at 28:6-15. The Magistrate accepted Movant's guilty plea after being satisfied that he was competent to enter a plea, there was a factual basis for the plea, he understood the consequences of entering a plea, and he was voluntarily and knowingly pleading guilty. Id. at 29:9-17.

         The Court accepted Movant's guilty plea, adopted the Magistrate's recommendation that he be found guilty, and ordered the Probation Officer to prepare a Presentence Investigation Report (PSR, D.E. 202). The PSR calculated Movant's base offense level, based on 6, 000 kilograms of marijuana equivalent, at 32. After acceptance of responsibility, his total offense level was 29. Movant had zero criminal history points, resulting in a criminal history category of I. His advisory Guideline sentencing range was 87-108 months' imprisonment; however, because the statutory minimum sentence was 10 years, his Guideline range defaulted to 120 months.

         Movant's counsel filed written objections to the PSR, arguing that Movant qualified for safety valve under U.S.S.G. § 5C1.2, which would have allowed the Court to sentence him below the mandatory minimum. D.E. 193. Counsel also filed a Memorandum of Law in Aid of Sentencing ("Sentencing Memorandum"), wherein he again argued that Movant qualified for safety valve, writing:

The Pre-sentence Report indicates that the Defendant has met the criteria set out in 1-4 above.
As to (5), the defendant was debriefed and truthfully answered all the questions concerning his knowledge of the offense. Mr. Mendoza is willing to further be interviewed by the Government. Mr. Mendoza has admitted to all relevant conduct during his debriefing as well as in the attached statement identified (Exhibit 1) incorporated herein for all purposes.
The Defendant has disclosed his illegal activities with Ramon Valencia-Morfin, (deceased) Gerardo Serafin, Uncle (deceased) and his aunts Veronica and Patricia, as well as his brother-in-law, Silvestre Valencia. Mr. Mendoza has identified the source of the drugs as "La Tia" and he is awaiting to identify her as soon as the Government provides a photo lineup for him.

         D.E. 214, pp. 4-5. Attached was a seven-page handwritten statement by Movant detailing his participation in the drug trafficking organization. D.E. 214-1, Ex. 1. The Sentencing Memorandum further detailed Movant's family history and attached several letters from Movant's friends and family attesting to his good character. The Government responded that Movant did not qualify for safely valve because he had not truthfully provided all the information and evidence he had concerning the conspiracy, and the information he did provide was already known to the Government before his indictment. D.E. 229.

         Sentencing was held on September 21, 2017. See 9/21/2017 Sent. Hrg. Tr., D.E. 234. The Court opened the hearing by eliciting the Government's response to Movant's objection regarding safety valve. The Government stated that Movant had not been entirely forthcoming during his debriefings and failed to truthfully provide "all information and evidence" concerning the offense. To resolve Movant's objection, the Court received testimony from the Government's case agent, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent (SA) Suzanne Minnick. Id. at 8:14-39:16. SA Minnick testified that she had been investigating this particular drug trafficking organization since 2007, and Movant became involved in 2010. After his arrest, Movant debriefed with SA Minnick a total of four times, with each interview lasting a few hours. Despite his lengthy involvement and close familial relationship with key leaders of the organization, Movant only provided first names or nicknames for most of his coconspirators. He also was not forthcoming about the involvement of one of his vehicles and travel companions in the conspiracy, his utilization of aircraft in the conspiracy, and the purpose of a $15, 000 payment he made to an undercover agent. As a result, SA Minnick believed Movant had; not provided her with all the information he had regarding the conspiracy:

Q: So both Mr. Mendoza's activities with the drug proceeds and with moving drugs, it's your opinion he was not truthful ! with you and that he did not provide all the information that ! you thought he could have?
A: Yes. And I believe he was withholding quite a bit of information.

         Id. at 15:2-7.

A: I believe when he would tell me certain things that he j was-he was giving me information, but not giving me the ! full picture of his involvement and the full picture ...

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