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7th Circuit finds leadership enhancement harmless error

March 22, 2019

An Indianapolis furniture salesman who used his business as a front for selling cocaine and heroin persuaded the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to buy his argument that he did not have a leadership role in the drug operation, but his 30-year sentence was still affirmed.

Geraldo Colon was a middleman in an Arizona-to-Indiana drug trafficking scheme. As he was purchasing kilogram quantities of cocaine and heroin from a Phoenix-based drug trafficker, he was also operating a furniture store in a mall in Indianapolis. He never segregated the mall’s lawful business, YRG Enterprise Entertainment, from his narcotics trafficking, instead depositing all the money from the mall and the drug dealing into the YRG business account.

In March 2016, Colon was indicted and found guilty of drug conspiracy, money laundering and making false statements in a bankruptcy proceeding.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana applied an aggravating role enhancement under U.S.S.G. section 3B1.1 on both the drug trafficking counts and money laundering counts for the leadership role Colon played in committing those offenses. Although the advisory guidelines range was life imprisonment, the court sentenced Colon to 30 years.

On appeal, Colon argued the district court erred in applying the leadership enhancements. In particular, the district court acknowledged Colon’s leadership role was not the typical situation of a boss with minions but he was a “central figure” through which “huge quantities” of drugs entered Indianapolis from Arizona.

The 7th Circuit conceded the facts do not support an aggravating role adjustment and that the district court erred in applying the leadership enhancement. However, in United States of America v. Geraldo Colon, 18-1233, the appellate panel found the error was harmless.

“The district judge emphasized the large scale of Colon’s drug dealing and its impact on the Indianapolis community,” Judge Michael Scudder wrote for the panel. “She also pointed out Colon’s utter disregard for the law, as evidenced by duration of his narcotics trafficking and his continuing to do so after others in the scheme were arrested, allowing drugs to continue to flow into the community. In the district court’s view, the fact that Colon continued dealing following these arrests, ‘in a more impactful way than even the guideline calculation, point[ed] to the leadership role of Mr. Colon.’

“In all of these observations,” Scudder continued, “the district judge made clear that a 30‐year sentence was appropriate regardless of the guidelines calculation due to Colon’s prominent role as a wholesale distributor of hundreds of kilograms of heroin and cocaine, and the resulting harm to the community. This record allows us to conclude that the errors in the advisory guidelines range were harmless.”

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