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United States v. Verges

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

February 6, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
KENIA Y. VERGES, et al., Defendants

Page 399

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 400

For Kenia Yasiris Verges, Defendant: Melinda L. VanLowe, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Melinda L. Vanlowe, Fairfax, VA.

For Alicia Garcia Rivera, Defendant: Joseph R. Conte, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of J.R. Conte, Washington, DC.

For USA, Plaintiff: Edward J. Reilly, Jonathan Fahey, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Sean P. Tonolli, U.S. Attorney's Office (Alexandria-NA), Alexandria, VA; Eugene Rossi, United States Attorney's Office, Alexandria, VA.

OPINION

Page 401

MEMORANDUM OPINION

James C. Cacheris, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

This matter came before the Court on January 31, 2014, for oral argument on Defendant Alicia Rivera's (" Rivera" or " Defendant" ) Motion to Suppress, [Dkt. 37], and Motion to Sever, [Dkt. 38]. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court denied both motions. This memorandum is intended to memorialize and explain these rulings.

I. Background

This criminal action stems from Defendant's alleged involvement in a conspiracy to import heroin in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 952(a), 960(a)(1), and 963.[1] (Superseding Indictment [Dkt. 15] at 1.) The Government claims that Defendant, along with her daughter and co-defendant Kenia Verges (" Verges" ), acted as couriers to smuggle heroin into the United States from Guatemala. ( Id. at 4.) On July 24, 2010, Defendant allegedly returned to the United States from Guatemala carrying a detectable amount of heroin secreted in foodstuffs. ( Id. ) The indictment further alleges that Verges performed a similar smuggling trip in March 2011. ( Id. at 5.)

On November 5, 2011, Verges arrived at Logan Airport following a three-week stay in the Dominican Republic. (Gov't Opp'n [Dkt. 41] at 3.) Customs and Border Protection agents inspected Verges's luggage and interviewed her regarding her trips to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. ( Id. ) Verges made a series of statements to the officers regarding her travels. ( Id. ) In response to a question concerning her trip to Guatemala in March 2011, Verges stated that Defendant had paid for her airline tickets. ( Id. )

On March 6, 2013, Special Agent Michael Honicker of Homeland Security Investigations and Special Agent Houston Smith of the Drug Enforcement Agency traveled to Defendant's home to interview her and Verges regarding their travels to Guatemala and serve them with target letters. (Gov't Opp'n at 3-4.) When they arrived, the agents identified themselves, presented their credentials, and explained to Defendant that they wanted to speak with her regarding her travels outside the United States. ( Id. ) Defendant opened the front door and permitted the agents to enter the living room. ( Id. at 4.) Verges joined shortly thereafter and the agents again identified themselves, presented their credentials, and explained that they wished to discuss their travels to Guatemala. ( Id. ) Verges notified the agents that Defendant did not speak English, but she offered to translate their questions. ( Id. )

Agent Honicker explained that this was a non-custodial interview in which they were not under arrest. (Gov't Opp'n at 4.)

Page 402

He further made clear that they did not have to speak with the agents, and they were free to ask them to leave at any time. ( Id. ) Defendant and Verges stated that they understood and agreed to speak with them. ( Id. )

Agent Honicker then explained that Defendant and Verges were the targets of a federal drug smuggling investigation. (Gov't Opp'n at 4.) Agent Honicker stated that he knew an unidentified co-conspirator had paid them thousands of dollars to smuggle heroin from Guatemala. ( Id. ) Agent Honicker told Defendant that he knew she traveled to Guatemala with her son and smuggled the contraband in her luggage. ( Id. ) Defendant did not deny anything and simply stated that her son did nothing wrong. ( Id. at 5.) Defendant then informed agents that she no longer wished to speak with them. ( Id. ) Agent Honicker provided Defendant with a target letter, which Verges read aloud in Spanish, and Defendant completed a financial affidavit. ( Id. ) Defendant then exited the living room. ( Id. )

After Defendant left, Verges stated that the purpose of her trip to Guatemala was to perform marriage fraud. (Gov't Opp'n at 5.) Agent Honicker reiterated that he had been investigating Verges for months and there was strong evidence she was involved in a conspiracy to import heroin. ( Id. ) Verges then stated that she did not wish to speak with the agents any longer. ( Id. ) Agent Honicker provided Verges with a target letter and she signed a financial affidavit. ( Id. ) The agents then left the residence. ( Id. )

Within a few minutes of their departure, Verges called Agent Honicker and indicated she would like to speak with him with an attorney present. (Gov't Opp'n at 5.) Agent Honicker explained that her attorney should contact the U.S. Attorney's office listed in the target letter. ( Id. at 5-6.)

During the evening of March 6, 2013, Agent Honicker received a voicemail from a man identifying himself as Matt Smith and claiming that he was the attorney for both Defendant and Verges. (Gov't Opp'n at 6.) Smith left two telephone numbers and indicated that he had contacted the U.S. Attorney listed in the target letter. ( Id. ) Smith was never ...


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