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United States of America v. Jose Maria Corona-Perez

May 8, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOSE MARIA CORONA-PEREZ DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret M. Morrow United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL

On October 28, 2011, Jose Maria Corona-Perez was convicted of (1) conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 100 kilograms of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana and (2) knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute at least 100 kilograms of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana.*fn1

After the verdict was announced, Corona-Perez's trial counsel, G. David Haigh, stated his intent to file a motion for new trial, and the court extended the date by which such a motion had to be filed.*fn2 On November 16, 2011, Haigh moved to withdraw as counsel, asserting that his client had a possible ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and that it would be a conflict of interest for him to raise such an issue in a motion for new trial.*fn3 The court granted Haigh's motion to withdraw.*fn4

On December 23, 2011, Corona-Perez moved for judgment of acquittal or alternatively, for a new trial.*fn5 The government opposed the motion.*fn6 On April 30, 2012, Corona-Perez withdrew his motion for new trial, and elected to pursue only a motion for judgment of acquittal.*fn7

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Testimony of Detective Mark Adams

In its case in chief, the government called Detective Mark Adams, a patrol supervisor for the Baldwin Park Police Department.*fn8 Adams testified that, as part of an investigation undertaken with the Drug Enforcement Administration, he conducted surveillance on a property at 345 Cedar Street, Inglewood, California; this was the residence of Jose Enrique Ulloa.*fn9 On April 22, 2010, Adams took the "primary eye" -- the primary line of sight -- outside the residence.*fn10 At approximately 11:30 a.m., Adams observed two male Hispanics arrive at Ulloa's house in a silver Lexus and go into the garage.*fn11 Adams recounted that shortly thereafter, Ulloa left the residence in a red Ford F-150; the silver Lexus left as well. Adams followed as the cars drove to the city of Ontario and parked in a Rite Aid parking lot.*fn12 Adams stated that about ten minutes later, a white PT Cruiser containing two male Hispanics pulled into the parking lot.*fn13 He testified that the passenger in the PTC Cruiser spoke briefly with Ulloa and the driver of the Lexus, and then got into the driver's seat of the F-150 and drove way. The driver of the PT Cruiser followed.*fn14 Based on his experience, Adams testified that he believed "the red F-150 was a load vehicle or loaded with some type of illegal drug, and in order to compartmentalize or shield individuals from knowing everything about the narcotics or where they were going or who they were destined to or where they were going to arrive, Ulloa could only bring the vehicle so far, and then someone from the recipient's side of the narcotics deal picked up the vehicle and would drive it to the location or its destination."*fn15

Adams followed the F-150 and the PT Cruiser for several miles until the vehicles arrived at Boyd Lumber (now Arrow Truss) in Upland, California.*fn16 Adams commenced surveillance at the location when he arrived, which he estimated to be approximately 1:30 p.m..*fn17 Adams was recalled in the government's rebuttal case. After reviewing his investigative notes to refresh his memory, Adams recalled that he observed the vehicles arrive at Boyd Lumber at 1:52 p.m.*fn18

Adams stated that from his position, he could see the front bay door of the warehouse he was surveilling over a fence that "had vines . . . or some type of bushes growing on it."*fn19

Adams testified that shortly after the red F-150 and PT Cruiser reached the location, a gold Volvo that contained two Hispanics arrived. The individuals exited the vehicle and opened the bay door, allowing the red F-150 to back into the warehouse.*fn20 Adams identified Corona-Perez as the passenger in the Volvo who opened the warehouse door so that the F-150 could enter. *fn21

He stated that the drivers of the Volvo and PT Cruiser then parked near the warehouse.*fn22

Adams recounted that, at approximately 6:30 p.m., the bay door opened, the red F-150 exited, and the driver of the truck spoke briefly with Corona-Perez and the driver of the gold Volvo. At that point, the F-150 and PT Cruiser drove away.*fn23 Corona-Perez and the driver of the gold Volvo returned to the warehouse, shutting the bay door behind them.*fn24 Adams said that approximately thirty minutes later, law enforcement raided the warehouse and began searching for the two individuals believed to be inside.*fn25 Corona-Perez was apprehended inside the warehouse. Thirty vacuum-sealed bales of marijuana were also found in the building.*fn26 A vacuum sealing machine was also found inside.*fn27 Adams recognized the individual who was arrested as the same individual he had seen earlier because he was wearing the same clothes -- "a checkered shirt or kind of Pendleton type shirt and beige pants."*fn28 One of the diesel trucks parked near the warehouse was registered to Corona-Perez.*fn29

On cross examination, Adams stated that the marijuana was found in a pile of "junk," and that it was not apparent to him upon first entering the warehouse that marijuana was located there.*fn30 Adams testified that, because ...

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