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Drug dealer’s convictions upheld after ‘exceptionally weak’ arguments

December 13, 2016

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Monday a convicted drug dealer’s appeal of his drug conspiracy and firearm convictions and related sentence, calling his numerous arguments for reversal “exceptionally weak.”

In United States of America v. Shaft Jones, 15-3547, a government informant named Martinez arranged to sell Shaft Jones 20 kilograms of powder cocaine. When the two met outside of a car wash, police seized Jones, who had driven his luxury SUV through the car wash and emerged to find several police cars waiting for him.

When Jones exited the vehicle, a police search found a loaded pistol and four magazines each containing 20 bullets on Jones and an assault rifle in the back seat of his car with four additional magazines of 30 bullets. Officers also found a night-vision scope and bags containing a total of $353,443 in cash. After obtaining a search warrant, police searched Jones’ home and second car at his home and found another $321,280 in cash, more guns and ammunition, a bullet-proof vest, a money counter and a digital scale.

The district court judge eventually found that Jones’ abundance of cash came from the proceeds of selling 31.79 kilograms of cocaine. Adding on the additional 20 kilograms promised in the sting operation, Judge Theresa Springmann with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, found that Jones had engaged in an ongoing scheme involving more than 50 kilograms of cocaine. There was also evidence that Jones had conspired with criminal drug trade brokers to buy and resell illegal drugs.

A federal jury found Jones guilty of conspiring to possess, with intent to distribute, five or more kilograms of cocaine and of related crimes, including carrying a gun in connection with drug trafficking.

Springmann, also concerned with the large amount of weaponry found in Jones’ car, sentenced him to 270 months in prison, which is near the top of the applicable guidelines range.

Jones argued for reversal of his convictions and sentence, telling the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that the cash found in his car at the time of the sting could have been for anything, “when obviously it was to purchase cocaine from Martinez,” Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a Monday opinion upholding Jones’ convictions.

Further, Jones’ attorney also argued that his client had been a boxing promoter, but offered no explanation as to why a boxing promoter would be carrying so much cash and weaponry, Posner wrote.

Jones also argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions, but Posner wrote that his convictions stemmed from his conspiracy with the two brokers to obtain cocaine from Martinez, not from his conspiracy with a confidential government informant, which is prohibited under previous precedent.

The 7th Circuit panel also rejected Jones’ challenges of the evidence against him, writing that none of the evidence should have been excluded because the officers involved had knowledge of his drug dealings and because the government had produced a chain of custody for the recording device Martinez was wearing during the sting.

Finally, the federal circuit court rejected Jones’ argument that his sentence was inappropriate because he was not responsible for more than 50 kilograms of cocaine, when all of the evidence suggested otherwise.

“The government had the defendant cold, and the district judge was on solid footing in saying that a sentence above the guideline range would be reasonable given the magnitude of Jones’ criminal activity, though ultimately the judge sentenced Jones within the guidelines range,” Posner wrote.

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