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United States v. Duran

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

June 20, 2017

JASON DURAN, Defendant.


          MARTHA VÁZQUEZ United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on defendant Jason Duran's Motion to Suppress Statement and Evidence [Doc. 293] and Motion to Suppress Evidence Based Upon Unlawful Tracking and Electronic Communication Interception. [Doc. 305]. The United States of America (“Government”) opposes both motions. The Court conducted a hearing on the two motions on May 31 and June 1, 2017.

         For the reasons set forth below, both motions are denied.

         I. Background

         This case involves a drug trafficking operation in Taos County. The Government contends that beginning at a date unknown and continuing until December 18, 2015, brothers Ivan Romero and Ricco Romero ran a drug distribution enterprise that employed a network of dealers peddling heroin and other controlled drugs. Informants reported to law enforcement agents that Mr. Duran was procuring heroin from suppliers in Albuquerque and delivering one to two pounds of it to Ivan Romero approximately twice a month.

         On April 2, 2015, agents obtained a warrant from a New Mexico state court district judge to search Ivan Romero's residence in Taos County. Officers and agents of the Region III Narcotics Task Force, Taos County Sheriff's Department, the New Mexico State Police and the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) executed the warrant that evening, and seized marijuana; drug trafficking instruments, supplies and paraphernalia; $64, 920 in cash; 305.2 grams of heroin; and cell phones.

         Subsequently, numerous text messages between Ivan Romero and Mr. Duran were recovered from the cell phones. According to the government, although the text messages were in veiled or coded language, they corroborated witnesses' reports of Mr. Duran's role in the organization, specifically, that he repeatedly procured heroin, and occasionally methamphetamine, from suppliers around Albuquerque, transported the drugs (as well as bags of dog food) to Ivan Romero in Taos, collected cash from Ivan Romero and delivered the cash to the suppliers. Ivan was arrested and charged in state court in Taos County with drug trafficking offenses, and his bond was set at $90, 000. He bonded out the next day after other members of the Romero family visited a Taos bank and exchanged $90, 000 in U.S. currency for a bank check used to post his bond.

         On June 29, 2015, agents executed a federal search warrant at the home of Wilma Romero (Ivan's and Ricco's mother) in Arroyo Hondo and seized drug packaging materials and digital scales, marijuana, ammunition, $73, 288 in U.S. currency, gold ingots and coins and 97.5 grams of heroin.

         Subsequently, investigators identified Mr. Duran's source of supply in Albuquerque and conducted surveillance of Mr. Duran and the supplier. To facilitate the surveillance, on September 28, 2015, they applied for and obtained federal tracking warrants authorizing the installation of tracking devices on Mr. Duran's Ford Mustang and Ford pickup.

         October 13, 2015 Stop

         According to the government, on the evening of October 13, 2015, Mr. Duran drove his Ford pickup to the residence of his heroin supplier in Albuquerque.[1] After parking his truck, he got out of the vehicle and entered the residence. A few minutes later, he emerged from the residence, got back into the truck and drove to his own residence in Albuquerque. Later that evening, Mr. Duran left his residence in his Ford Mustang and headed north on I-25. DEA agents alerted New Mexico State Police Officer Ronald Wood that Mr. Duran was believed to be transporting heroin to the Romero organization in Taos.

         At approximately 10:14 p.m., Officer Wood observed Mr. Duran's Ford Mustang traveling north on I-25 at a rate seven miles over the speed limit. Officer Wood stopped the car at milepost 257 in Sandoval County. Pamela Valdez, Duran's girlfriend, was driving. She told the officer she did not have a driver's license. She said she and Mr. Duran were going to Taos to go pinon picking. Mr. Duran also said he was going to Taos to go elk hunting. The officer issued Valdez a citation for driving without a license and a written warning for the speeding violation.

         After issuing the citation, the officer told Valdez she was free to go and then inquired whether he could ask her additional questions. She agreed, as did Mr. Duran. Officer Wood questioned the two about why they did not have luggage. Valdez said she did not know how long they were going to stay in Taos and Mr. Duran said he had everything he needed at his house in Taos. The officer, who had participated in the investigation of the Romero drug trafficking operation, suspected Mr. Duran was transporting heroin to Taos. Mr. Duran and Valdez refused the officer's request to consent to a search of the vehicle, but he advised them of his suspicions and told them he was going to walk his drug detection dog around the exterior of the vehicle. The dog conducted a free air sniff of the exterior of the car and alerted to the scent of a controlled substance. Officer Wood then searched the vehicle and found several packages of suspected heroin with an aggregate gross weight of 131 grams. An additional 10.6 grams of suspected heroin was found in a purse.

         Mr. Duran and Valdez were detained and given Miranda warnings. Mr. Duran initialed and signed an Advice of Rights form acknowledging he understood his rights and waived them, electing to speak with law enforcement agents. However, expressing concern that his statements might be disclosed to co-conspirators, he declined to be recorded while speaking with investigators, and executed a written Recording Declination.

         During his interview, Mr. Duran told agents that Ricco Romero had asked him to transport the heroin found in his car to Taos. He said that Ricco had told him to pick up a discarded McDonalds bag containing the heroin from the side of the road in southwest Albuquerque and to transport it to Ricco in Taos as a test run; if Ricco approved of the quality of the heroin, Mr. Duran would transport kilogram quantities of heroin to Ricco in the future. Mr. Duran provided agents with telephone numbers for Ricco and Ivan Romero, and told them he knew law enforcement agents had seized $90, 000 from a safe that Ricco kept at his mother's home and that he also stored money and rugs in a safe in his home and a safe at the home of a man Mr. Duran only knew as “Ricky.” He offered to cooperate with law enforcement, and said he would be willing to make a controlled delivery for agents and would remain in contact and provide information regarding any new developments.

         The government avers that although many of Mr. Duran's statements were “laden with half-truths, omissions and outright falsehoods, ” the investigators let him go to avoid compromising the ongoing investigation. [Doc. 310-1 at 8].

         October 17, 2015 Stop

         The government alleges Mr. Duran, without informing agents of his trip, made another delivery to the Romeros on October 17, 2015. According to tracking data, he drove north to Bernalillo (apparently to pick up bags of dog food from a vendor), then doubled back and took back roads east of Albuquerque north to Santa Fe. DEA agents alerted New Mexico State Police to Mr. Duran's travel. State Police Officer Nathan Lucero stopped Mr. Duran north of Espanola. Although a drug detection dog alerted to the presence of a controlled substance, the officers were unable to locate those drugs and released Mr. Duran, who continued to Taos. Subsequently, a cooperating witness or informant told agents that Mr. Duran had been stopped by police while transporting heroin to Ricco Romero, but the police had failed to find the heroin, which Mr. Duran thereafter delivered to Ricco.

         October 21, 2015 Meeting

         After the October 17 stop, DEA Agent Kevin Mondragan contacted Mr. Duran by telephone and asked to meet with him. Mr. Duran met with agents Mondragon and William Fresquez at a Hooter's parking lot in Albuquerque on October 21, 2015. The agents told Mr. Duran they knew he had not been truthful with them. According to the agents, Mr. Duran confessed he had not been completely forthright, and provided a more complete account of the conspiracy. Among other things, he told the agents:

• He had been involved in the Romero drug trafficking operation for about three years. Initially, he drove Elias Romero (father of Ivan and Ricco) to Albuquerque about once every week or week-and-a-half to purchase heroin from the group's primary supplier. After Elias died in 2016, Ivan Romero asked Mr. Duran to take on the responsibility of dealing with suppliers and transporting heroin to Taos.
• Mr. Duran had picked up packages of heroin from the primary supplier approximately 30 times. The size of the packages increased over time. He estimated the larger packages each contained two pounds of heroin.
• After the primary supplier was arrested and jailed on state charges, the supplier's wife agreed to supply the Romero operation. Mr. Duran said that he had picked up packages from the wife approximately 40-50 times. He picked up packages and transported them to Taos at least twice a month.
• Mr. Duran said he usually picked up bundles of money from Ivan and delivered them to the primary supplier or his wife. He helped Ivan count the money to be paid to the supplier on several occasions, and he estimated that he transported approximately $35, 000 per month to the heroin suppliers.
• Mr. Duran admitted he had obtained the heroin seized from his car on October 13, 2015, from the wife of his primary supplier.[2]

         During the October 21, 2015 meeting, Mr. Duran renewed his promise to cooperate. Subsequently, he met with Ricco Romero and, at the request of the DEA agents, wore an audio recording device, which recorded his conversation with Ricco.

         II. Mr. Duran's Motion to Suppress Statements and Evidence [293]

         Mr. Duran, arguing he was coerced, seeks to suppress statements he made during ...

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