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7th Circuit affirms drug dealer’s life sentence

June 21, 2018

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the United States on Wednesday, affirming a man’s conviction and life sentence for buying and selling large amounts of narcotics.

Larry Norton handled cocaine and heroin distribution for a large drug conspiracy where he drove between Chicago and Akron, Ohio, to move drugs and drug proceeds. His customers would pick up drugs at his Fort Wayne home.

On October 2, 2014, law enforcement recruited a member of the conspiracy to act as an informant and record conversations between Norton and other conspirators as they sampled heroin and discussed business strategy. The following month, the informant told federal drug task force officers that Norton planned to move $400,000 of drug proceeds. An Indiana state police officer then planned a stop and waited for a signal.

On November 7, Norton was stopped for driving 72 miles per hour in a 55-mph construction zone. A state police officer inspected the vehicle and did not arrest Norton. The car was soon impounded and with a search warrant, law enforcement conducted a more thorough search, discovering $400,000 in cash.

Norton was arrested months later near the Mexico border on one count of conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 1 kilogram or more of heroin and 5 kilograms of more of cocaine. During the arrest, authorities also found a heat sealer, Norton’s wallet and $179,000 in cash.

In USA v. Larry Norton, 17-2898, Larry Norton argued the United States District Court erred by introducing evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop. He also contended that the district court erred by admitting the informant’s statements from the October 2 recording.

But the 7th Circuit found that district court was correct in denying Norton’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the traffic stop.

“The district court based its conclusion that Officer Shultz had probable cause to stop Norton on the finding that Norton had exceeded the speed limit,” Judge Michael S. Kanne wrote Thursday. “This factual finding is not clearly erroneous.”

The court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the informant’s statements made in conversation with the informant. It concluded the exclusion of the informant’s statements would not have affected the outcome of Norton’s case.

“Norton challenges only the informant’s statements from the recording. He does not contest his own statements or those of his coconspirators,” Kanne concluded. “And in the recording, those parties discuss the strength of their heroin, how to dilute it, and other elements of business strategy. Those statements are sufficiently inculpatory.”

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