United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS THAT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR DEFAULT JUDGMENT AND FINAL JUDGMENT OF FORFEITURE BE GRANTED OBJECTIONS DUE: 21 DAYS (Doc. 13)
SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.
On February 13, 2015, Plaintiff United States of America (the "Government" or "Plaintiff") filed a motion for default judgment and for final judgment of forfeiture in this in rem forfeiture action. (Doc. 13.) No opposition to the Government's application has been filed, and the time to file an opposition has expired. The Court reviewed the motion and supporting document and found the matter suitable for decision without argument pursuant to Local Rule 230(g); thus the March 18, 2015, hearing was vacated. For the reasons set forth below, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Government's application for default judgment and for final judgment of forfeiture be GRANTED.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The Government's complaint, filed on October 20, 2014, alleges that approximately $3, 104, 661.00 in U.S. Currency ("Defendant currency") was seized from the property of Marco Antonio Sauceda and Brenda Sauceda during the execution of a state search warrant at Coronado Street W., in Bakersfield, California, on August 21, 2014. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 1, 2.)
The Government alleges that on August 19, 2014, Luis Ricardo Eslava-Corral ("Eslava"), a Mexican National attempted to enter the United States from Mexico at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego County. Eslava was driving a tractor-trailer bearing California license plate 9E98066, and the trailer bearing California license plate 4NC2644. A U.S. customs officer referred Eslava to a secondary inspection, where a narcotics detector dog alerted to the underside of the tractor-trailer. A law enforcement search of the tractor-trailer revealed a hidden compartment containing multiple packages of cocaine.
Following the discovery of the cocaine at the United States-Mexico Border, federal law enforcement agents began following Eslava's tractor-trailer vehicle, which made stops in San Diego and San Clemente on August 19, 2014. The next day, August 20, 2014, Eslava continued driving north toward Bakersfield, with federal agents following his route. During the drive, Eslava was observed using his cell phone, and the frequency of cell phone usage increased as Eslava approached Bakersfield.
At approximately 5:40 p.m. on August 20, 2014, Eslava and the tractor-trailer arrived at a truck stop in north Bakersfield. An individual named Jimmy Gil ("Gil"), driving a Nissan Maxima registered to him at 164 Katterhorn, Shafter, California, met Eslava and took possession of the tractor-trailer and cocaine. Eslava left the meeting in Gil's Nissan Maxima and drove the tractor trailer to a trucking business located at 300 Buena Vista Blvd., in Bakersfield, California. There, he was joined by Jose Luis Montoya-Salazar ("Salazar").
Gil and Salazar began to unload the packaged cocaine from the tractor-trailer's hidden compartment in the floor of the trailer and placed the packages in Montoya's vehicle. After offloading 18 one-kilogram packages of cocaine, federal agents interceded and arrested Gil and Salazar. A subsequent search of the tractor-trailer's hidden compartment revealed an additional 20 one-kilogram packages of cocaine. In total, 38 kilograms of cocaine were seized from Gil, Montoya, and the tractor-trailer that crossed into the United States from Mexico on August 19, 2014.
Once in custody, federal agents connected Gil to an ongoing investigation into the concealment of large amounts of drug proceeds in heavy machinery and equipment. When asked about the ongoing investigation and whether he knew of monies concealed in heavy equipment, Gil confirmed that a large amount of cash was hidden inside of construction equipment location on Coronado Street West in Bakersfield, California.
On August 21, 2014, federal agents executed a federal search warrant at a particular property on Coronado Street, finding numbered stacks of cash concealed in two non-factor hidden compartments in an asphalt roller. Federal agents utilized drug detection canine to determine if the odor of narcotics was present. The drug-detecting canine positively alerted to the presence of the odor of narcotics in the specific area where the cash was concealed and ultimately discovered.
A later bank count of the cash seized from inside the asphalt roller totaled approximately $3, 104, 661.00 in cash - Defendant currency. Defendant currency was broken down into the following denominations: $360, 000 in $100 bills; $330, 000 in $50 bills; $2.264 million in $20 bills; $102, 000 in $10 bills; $27, 500 in $5 bills; and $21, 161 in miscellaneous unknown tender.
On September 4, 2014 Gil, Eslava, and Salazar were indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California for Conspiracy to Import, to Distribute, and to Possess with Intent to Distribute at least 5 kilograms of cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(A), 846, 952, and 960, United States v. Jimmy Gil et al., No. 1:14-cr-00196-LJO-SKO.
On September 18, 2014, Gil filed a notice of appeal of the revocation of pretrial release; that appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit case number 14-10440 is currently pending.
On September 22, 2014, Eslava entered a guilty plea to violations of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1)(A), 846, 952, and 960 - Conspiracy to Import, to Distribute, and Possess with Intent to Distribute at least 5 kilogram ...