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United States v. Sabedra

United States District Court, District of Hawaii

March 4, 2015



J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge.


On August 12, 2014, Defendants Gabriel Sabedra and his son co-Defendant Esteban Sabedra (collectively “Defendants” or the “Sabedras”) were indicted for conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), & 841(b)(1)(B). The charges resulted from a July 28, 2014 search pursuant to warrant of a residence (where the Sabedras were staying as “overnight guests”) in Pearl City, Hawaii. Before the court is Gabriel Sabedra’s Motion to Suppress, joined substantively by Esteban Sabedra, seeking to exclude all evidence obtained from the search. The Sabedras contend that the warrant lacked probable cause, and that Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) Special Agent Patrick Wong (“Agent Wong”) lacked a good faith basis for relying on the warrant. Based on the following, and after careful scrutiny of the record, the court DENIES Gabriel Sabedra’s Motion to Suppress and Esteban Sabedra’s Substantive Joinder. Doc. Nos. 44, 49.


A. Factual Background

On July 28, 2014, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry M. Kurren issued a search warrant authorizing federal law enforcement officers to search “[t]he property known as 1858 Waimano Home Road, Unit C, Pearl City, HI 96782, more specifically described as: a yellow two-story wooden structure with brown trim . . . situated on the west side of an access road leading to Waimano Home Road” (“the premises”). Gov’t’s Ex. 5 at 2. The warrant described the premises in more detail, and also authorized a search of “[a]ny vehicles located on the curtilage or premises of 1858 Waimano Home Road, Unit C, Pearl City, HI 96782.” Id. The premises was the residence of unindicted co-conspirator Manuel Bernal (“Bernal”).

The warrant sought documents and other items “relating to the distribution of controlled substances.” Id. at 4. In particular, the warrant listed the following as “items authorized to be searched-for and seized:”

1. Personal books and papers reflecting names, addresses, telephone numbers, and other contact/identification data relating to the distribution of controlled substances.
2. Cash, currency, and records relating to income and expenditures of money and wealth from controlled substances. . . .
3. Items of personal property which tend to identify the person(s) in residence, occupancy, control or ownership of the premises that is the subject of this warrant, including but not limited to cancelled mail, deeds, leases, rental agreements, photographs, personal telephone books, diaries, utility and telephone bills, statements, identification documents, and keys.
4. Airline tickets, notes and itineraries, airline schedules, bills, charge card receipts, hotel/motel/rent-a-car statements correspondence with travel agencies . . . passports and other papers relating to domestic/international travel.
5. Waybills, airbills, bills of lading, receipts, delivery notices, and other shipping documentation from the U.S. Postal Service, small package carriers, or common carriers which indicate the shipment of packages and parcels to and from Hawaii . . . .
6. Firearms and ammunition.
7. Cellular phones and pagers.


The Sabedras were at the premises when the warrant was executed on July 28, 2014.[1] The criminal Complaint in this action alleges that:

During the search, investigators acquired approximately 204 gross grams of a crystal-like substance resembling methamphetamine in a safe. This substance field tested positive for methamphetamine. The safe also contained a small scale. The safe was located in an upstairs master bedroom within a closet. A U.S. Department of Defense vendor identification card in Gabriel SABEDRA’s name was found in the same closet. A larger scale was also found in the closet. The bedroom also contained documents pertaining to Manuel BERNAL. A passport in Gabriel SABEDRA’s name was found in a bag, also in the same bedroom.

Doc. No. 1, Compl. at 4. In the course of, or after, their arrest, the Sabedras gave certain statements to law enforcement officials. Id. at 5. They now seek to suppress the physical evidence taken during the search, as well as subsequent statements made as a result of their arrest.

The search warrant was based on a July 28, 2014 Affidavit (the “Affidavit”) of Agent Wong. Agent Wong’s eighteen-page Affidavit describes the basis for probable cause to believe that there were documents, records, property, and other evidence “relating to the distribution of controlled substances” at the premises.

The Affidavit begins by explaining Agent Wong’s approximately fourteen years of employment with the DEA, and details his experience and knowledge in methodology utilized in narcotics trafficking. Gov’t Ex. 4 at 2-9. Among other matters, the Affidavit establishes that methamphetamine is not presently manufactured to a significant extent in Hawaii, and that it is common for drug traffickers to have controlled substances manufactured in clandestine labs on the mainland or in the Far East, with drugs then sent to Hawaii via the U.S. Postal Service, private carriers, and/or through couriers. Cash payments or remuneration are then sent back to the sources through similar methods. The Affidavit explains that travel documents, records, telephone and address listings of clients and suppliers, and other types of evidence are typically found in traffickers’ residences and vehicles. Id. ¶¶ 7-9.

The Affidavit bases probable cause on several different sources: (1) statements from two confidential informants involved in two previous methamphetamine arrests; (2) statements from other Defendants (Miguel Ruiz-Quintero (“Ruiz”), and Jesus Beltran (“Beltran”)) involved in one of those two cases; (3) pictures and phone numbers retrieved from a cellular phone obtained as a result of one of those arrests; (4) an anonymous “Crime Stoppers” tip sheet made via “Crime Stoppers Honolulu” that was forwarded by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”) to Agent Wong; (5) statements made by alleged co-conspirator Bernal; (6) other available information about Bernal (e.g., his cell phone number, and his car registration); and (7) law enforcement surveillance of 1858 Waimano Home Road.

Specifically, the Affidavit describes two incidents in 2013 and 2014 of methamphetamine being sent to Hawaii addresses, hidden in “mannequin heads.” First, on May 6, 2013, law enforcement officials in California obtained a search warrant for a suspicious United Parcel Service (“UPS”) parcel addressed to 3814 Claudine Street in Honolulu. Three mannequin heads containing a total of six pounds of methamphetamine were found inside the parcel. Law enforcement in Hawaii, including the Hawaii Airport Task Force (“HATF”), conducted a controlled delivery of the parcel, and arrested several individuals, including “Cooperating Defendant 1” (“CD1”). Id. at 11-12, ¶¶ 12-13.

Second, on January 23, 2014, Agent Wong obtained a search warrant for a suspicious UPS parcel sent from California to an address in Kaaawa, Hawaii. The parcel included two mannequin heads containing a total of four pounds of methamphetamine. Law enforcement agencies conducted a controlled delivery of this parcel on January 24, 2014, and arrested three individuals: Ruiz, Beltran, and “Cooperating Defendant 2” (“CD2”). Id. at 12-13, ¶¶ 14-15. Beltran told investigators that Ruiz agreed to send methamphetamine to CD2. Id. ¶ 15. CD2 told investigators that CD2 knew the parcel contained methamphetamine and that CD2 was supposed to deliver it to Ruiz and Beltran. Id. The next day, Agent Wong retrieved a white Blackberry cell phone -- which Beltran later identified as Ruiz’ cell phone -- from the ground near where the controlled delivery had taken place.[2] The cell phone contained numerous pictures and other data, including:

• A picture of a parcel with a return address of “1858 Waimano Home Road, #C, Pearl City, HI 96782, ” ...

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