from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
WIENER, HIGGINSON, and HO, Circuit Judges.
C. HO, Circuit Judge.
Sifuentes pleaded guilty to a drug-related money laundering
conspiracy. Sifuentes now challenges his below-Guidelines
sentence of 160 months as both procedurally incorrect and
substantively unreasonable. We reject his arguments and
cousin Pablo Zavala sold large quantities of methamphetamine
smuggled in from Mexico to Fernando Obregon in Dallas.
Sifuentes worked with Zavala to launder and return the drug
proceeds to Mexico. He also recruited the help of Aaron
Gonzalez to launder the money and conduct wire transfers to
Mexico. Sifuentes let Gonzalez know the money came from the
sale of drugs, telling him that Zavala concealed illegal
drugs inside "candies, soaps, and other items,"
which Zavala then shipped to Dallas. From his recruitment
until the time of his arrest, Sifuentes exchanged over 600
electronic communications with Zavala and Obregon, primarily
via WhatsApp and phone calls.
least one occasion, Sifuentes tried to convince Gonzalez to
pick up a load of methamphetamine in Dallas. He explained to
Gonzalez that he needed "some cokes and soap"
moved-objects Sifuentes previously told Gonzalez contained
hidden drugs. Sifuentes could not pick up the drugs himself
because he was busy collecting proceeds of other drug sales
in Kansas. But Gonzalez did not want to leave the drugs in
"[his] car for a long time." Sifuentes then asked
Gonzalez to transport the drugs to a nearby hotel on his
behalf, stating he could pick up the drugs later. Gonzalez
again refused, claiming he was "spooked," and
worried Zavala would not "have [his] back in jail . . .
." Two weeks later, the FBI arrested Sifuentes.
February 2018, Sifuentes proceeded to a jury trial on the
indictment alleging a money laundering conspiracy. In March,
the trial ended in a hung jury. The court set a second trial
date, but before trial, Sifuentes pleaded guilty without a
plea agreement. He admitted he knowingly conspired to conduct
financial transactions with proceeds he knew were exclusively
derived from drug trafficking.
probation officer writing the Presentence Investigation
Report (PSR) for Sifuentes's sentence included the
attempted drug pickup with Gonzalez in his calculation.
U.S.S.G. § 2S1.1(a). The Sentencing Guidelines establish
two different methods for calculating a sentence for a money
laundering conviction, depending on whether the defendant
also committed, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded,
induced, procured, or willfully caused the substantive
underlying offense, or laundered money only. See
U.S.S.G. §§ 2S1.1(a)(1)-(2). The PSR here applied
the former method, relying on an underlying drug conspiracy
to calculate the base offense level.
objected, claiming that his one abortive attempt to
facilitate drug distribution should not lead to culpability
under section 2S1.1(a)(1). The Government countered that his
"near constant contact" with leaders in the drug
conspiracy, as well as his acts of money laundering and
attempt on at least one occasion to direct another person to
pick up drugs, showed a pattern of engaging in the underlying
and ongoing criminal activity.
district court overruled Sifuentes's objection to his
base offense level and calculated a preliminary Guidelines
imprisonment range of 262 to 327 months, capped by statute at
240 months. To get to that range, the PSR applied section
2S1.1(a)(1), which determined the base level for the
underlying offense through cross-reference to section
1B1.3(a)(1)(A). Applying section 1B1.3(a)(1)(A) led the
district court by cross-reference to section 2D1.1. Finding
Sifuentes laundered $93, 974 in drug proceeds, the PSR found
Sifuentes accountable for 14.91 kilograms of methamphetamine.
A drug offense involving between five and fifteen kilograms
of methamphetamine leads to a base offense level of 34. After
final adjustments, the district court found an offense level
of 38, with a criminal history category of II.
made several arguments for a downward departure. He requested
a sentence of 60 months. The district court acknowledged
Sifuentes's arguments and ultimately decided on a
sentence of 160 months- an 80-month reduction below the
statutory cap and Guidelines-suggested range. Sifuentes
objected to the procedural and substantive reasonableness of
review the district court's factual findings for clear
error and its application of the Guidelines de novo.
United States v. Ruiz, 621 F.3d 390, 394 (5th Cir.
2010). We review the substantive reasonableness of the
sentence for an abuse ...