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United States v. Adorno-Molina

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 19, 2014

UNITED STATES, Appellee,
v.
MARVA ADORNO-MOLINA, Defendant, Appellant

Page 117

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Juan Pérez-Gimé nez, U.S. District Judge.

Raymond L. Sanchez Maceira for appellant.

Juan Carlos Reyes-Ramos, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, and Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, were on brief, for appellee.

Before Howard, Selya, and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 118

LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Marva Adorno-Molina (" Adorno" ) was convicted on drug trafficking conspiracy and money laundering charges related to her involvement in a wide-ranging drug trafficking organization led by Angel Ayala-Vazquez (" Ayala" ). Adorno challenges her drug conspiracy conviction on sufficiency grounds. She also argues that her money laundering conviction should be vacated pursuant to United States v. Santos, 553 U.S. 507, 128 S.Ct. 2020, 170 L.Ed.2d 912 (2008), because the government failed to prove that the monies laundered were " net profits" of drug-trafficking, not merely " gross revenues." Additionally, she contends that the district court erred when it gave a willful blindness instruction to the jury, and when it relied on the money laundering proceeds to establish a base offense level at sentencing.

Page 119

We reject Adorno's arguments and affirm the convictions and sentence.

I.

Because Adorno's appeal follows the jury's finding of guilt, and she challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict. United States v. Rodríguez, 731 F.3d 20, 23 (1st Cir. 2013).

Ayala was the leader of a drug trafficking organization (" DTO" ) using as its base the Jose Celso Barbosa Public Housing Project and the Sierra Linda Public Housing Project in Bayamón, Puerto Rico.[1] Ayala's DTO required many vehicles to transport drugs and firearms, secure proceeds from drug sales, and elude authorities. Alberto Melé ndez-Sá ez (" Melé ndez" ) was in charge of procuring vehicles for Ayala's DTO.

In 2007, Adorno was a financing manager for Bella International's Honda and Acura dealership on Kennedy Avenue in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During her time at Bella International, Adorno befriended Melé ndez and assisted him with procuring many vehicles. Melé ndez and Adorno would use " straw owners" to conceal the fact that the vehicles were being purchased for Ayala's DTO. Adorno and Melé ndez would recruit prospective straw owners by seeking out individuals in need of extra money. They would tell the straw owners that professionals with bad credit required assistance purchasing vehicles. Adorno and Melé ndez paid the straw owners $2,000 to $5,000 per vehicle once they signed the purchase documents and became the registered owner of a vehicle.

For example, one straw owner, Mary Soto, testified that Adorno convinced her to act as a straw owner for five vehicles from July to September 2007 by using the professionals with bad credit rationale. In exchange for signing the purchase documents, Melé ndez paid Soto $4,000 to $5,000 per vehicle.

Although the cars were technically titled in the straw owners' names, they never drove the cars. Instead, Melé ndez or individuals who worked with him would pick up the vehicles directly from the dealership lot. Melé ndez and Adorno also paid for all vehicle-related expenses, including the down payment, monthly loan payments, and insurance.

Melé ndez and Adorno procured cars from both Bella International and other dealerships in Puerto Rico. At Bella International, they usually worked with the same salesperson, Luis Martí nez. Martí nez testified that whenever Melé ndez wanted to purchase a vehicle, the transaction was " very easy" and was " squared away" by Adorno and Melé ndez ahead of time. All Martí nez had to do was find the requested vehicle from the dealership lot. Instead of delivering the vehicle to the straw owner who signed the purchase documents, Martí nez would give the car directly to Melé ndez.

Melé ndez would visit Adorno at Bella International at least three times per week. Adorno liked to conduct business with Melé ndez in private. Whenever they would exchange money in her office, Adorno would ask Martí nez to leave them alone. Nevertheless, at times, Martí nez saw Melé ndez deliver cash to Adorno, either from his pockets or in a paper bag.

Top management at Bella International became concerned about Adorno's business ...


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