7th Circuit upholds convictions for drug ringleader Grundy, multiple crew members

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld convictions for Indianapolis drug kingpin Richard Grundy and members of his crew following their 2019 convictions in a wide-ranging trafficking conspiracy. But the court did reverse two convictions for one member of Grundy’s team, finding evidence “left a reasonable doubt” that he committed the crimes.

Richard Grundy III, the leader of a violent Indianapolis-based drug trafficking ring, was convicted in August 2019 on federal drug charges along with four co-defendants following a three-week trial. Grundy, who led the so-called “Grundy Crew” in the drug-trafficking network, sold more than 3,700 pounds of marijuana and 280 pounds of methamphetamine on Indianapolis’ streets between April 2016 and November 2017.

Grundy and co-defendants Gilberto Vizcarra-Millan, Derek Atwater, James Beasley, Ezell Neville and Undrae Moseby first stood trial in Indianapolis in July 2019. But their trial was moved to Evansville after the judge declared a mistrial, finding that a court order concerning jurors’ personal information was violated.

In two separate cases, more than two dozen members of Grundy’s crew were charged with federal offenses, including conspiracy to distribute drugs and money laundering. Grundy was handed a life sentence for convictions of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine and other charges.

Atwater and Beasley were sentenced to 18 years, while Moseby was sentenced to to 20 years and Neville to 30 years. Vizcarra-Millan had pleaded guilty before the first trial, and the district court judge later denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, sentencing him to 25 years.

The six men challenged their convictions in a consolidated appeal before the 7th Circuit in United States of America v. Gilberto Vizcarra-Millan, et al., 19-3476, 19-3481, 19-3484, 19-3537, 20-1113 and 20-1266. The federal appeals court on Thursday affirmed in full the convictions of Grundy, Vizcarra-Millan, Moseby, Atwater and Neville.

The court rejected Grundy and Vizcarra-Millan’s arguments that their Sixth Amendment rights to counsel were violated, disagreeing first with Grundy’s assertion that the court was too persuasive during a hearing under Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819 (1975). He argued the district court should not have endorsed the government’s suggestion that his access to confidential documents should be limited.

“The district court’s repeated questioning on Grundy’s understanding of standby counsel did not run afoul of Faretta,” Circuit Judge David Hamilton wrote. “… We see no error in the district court’s explanation of the limits of standby counsel, especially in the face of Grundy’s repeated ambiguous answers as to what he wanted from his attorney.”

Finding the Faretta hearing was procedurally sound, the appellate court also concluded that discussion of possible restrictions on access to confidential documents due to security concerns did not violate the Constitution.

“A core part of the district judge’s job is to protect jurors, witnesses, and the integrity of judicial proceedings more broadly. Consideration of these proposals was entirely appropriate under the circumstances. Discussion of them did not violate Grundy’s constitutional rights,” Hamilton wrote.

As for Vizcarra-Millan’s concerns, the 7th Circuit concluded that Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Indiana Southern District Court did not abuse her discretion by deferring to his informed choice to stick with his “conflicted attorney,” John Tennyson. Also, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s decision to accept a second waiver of his right to conflict-free counsel was within the wide band of discretion that district court judges have when facing such a dilemma.

“Whether Tennyson committed further ethical misconduct, whether his performance fell below the constitutional minimum, and whether Vizcarra-Millan might have been prejudiced by any such failure are questions that are not properly before us,” the panel held.

The appeals court next affirmed the denial of motions to suppress filed by Atwater, Beasley and Moseby, also finding sufficient evidence existed for Atwater and Neville.

However, it reversed Beasley’s convictions for conspiring with the Grundy gang to distribute drugs and for constructive possession of the methamphetamine recovered from Susan Koch’s home after she told officers to search there. It concluded the evidence at trial necessarily left a reasonable doubt as to whether Beasley committed those crimes.

Specifically, the panel noted the evidence against Beasley did not allow a finding beyond a reasonable doubt of more than a buyer-seller relationship, and that a different quantity of drugs found in the house of someone Beasley knew next to a bag from a clothing store he had purchased drugs in front of was not enough to support guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

As such, it remanded his case to the district court for resentencing on his remaining conviction.

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