Money laundering conviction, sentence vacated in federal drug bust 

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a man’s conviction and sentence for conspiracy to launder money for his involvement in a cross-country drug organization linked to the Sinaloa drug cartel that made its way to Avon, Indiana.

From 2015 to 2016, Jose Manuel Carrillo-Tremillo, Hector Saul Castro-Aguirre, John Ramirez-Prado, and Rafael Rojas-Reyes played active roles in a cross-country drug organization that involved large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine that moved throughout the southwestern and northeastern United States.

In January 2018, the U.S. government indicted 12 defendants, including Carrillo-Tremillo, Castro-Aguirre, Ramirez-Prado, and Rojas-Reyes, who proceeded to trial. A jury found all four of the men guilty of conspiracy to distribute the controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money, with Castro-Aguirre and Rojas-Reyes convicted on several additional charges. Each was convicted and sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

The 7th Circuit refused to alter their convictions and sentences on appeal, with the exception of those handed to Carrillo-Tremillo.

Looking first at evidentiary rulings, the appellate panel concluded that cell-site location information obtained in the case was properly admitted because the government, following the procedures set forth in the Stored Communications Act, gathered it in good faith.

Turning to the defendants’ challenge of the district court’s denial of their motion in limine to suppress evidence, the 7th Circuit found that the evidence of their loose affiliation to the Sinaloa cartel was relevant to show their association and the existence of a drug-distribution conspiracy.

“In contrast, we are troubled by the district court’s decision to admit the evidence of the kidnapping and murder of (Angel) Barrios-Moreno and his colleagues. This was explosive material, and it had little to do with the conduct for which the defendants were being tried,” Circuit Judge Diane Wood wrote. “… In light of the tenuous connection between this evidence and the case before us and the prejudice reflected in the jurors’ concerns for their safety, we find that the district court abused its discretion by admitting this evidence.”

However, the 7th Circuit concluded that the evidentiary error was ultimately harmless.

Moving to the conviction and sentence of Carrillo-Tremillo, the 7th Circuit found that the government did not prove he conducted a financial transaction with the proceeds over and beyond paying his debt for fronted drugs. It thus concluded that the district court erred when it denied Carrillo-Tremillo’s motion for judgment of acquittal with respect to the conspiracy to commit money laundering.

It therefore vacated his conviction and sentence on that count, remanding for further proceedings consistent with its opinion in USA v. Hector S. Castro-Aguirre, 19-1074. This includes resentencing Carrillo-Tremillo for his conviction of conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of meth and/or 5 or more kilos of cocaine, which stands.

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