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United States v. Bradley

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

March 24, 2017

JASON BRADLEY, et al., Defendants.


          Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the court on defendant Deborah Ryba's motion to suppress. ECF No. 243. The government filed a response opposing the motion, ECF No. 259, and the court addressed the matter at a hearing held on February 27, 2017. For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES Ryba's motion to suppress.


         On February 10, 2015, Special Agent Robert Smith of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) filed an application for a search warrant, along with a supporting affidavit, seeking access to two of Ryba's email accounts-namely, (the "Deborah account") and (the "Deby account"). In the Matter of the Search of Info. Associated with and that is Stored at Premises Controlled by the Google Corp.. No. 5:15-MJ-6 (W.D. Va. Feb. 10, 2015).[1] The search warrant sought evidence of drug offenses in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 952(a), 841(a)(1), 846 and money laundering offenses in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956, 1957.

         In establishing probable cause to conduct the search, the affidavit relies on emails, financial records, cooperating witnesses, and other sources to show Ryba's involvement in drug and money laundering activity. Law enforcement obtained many of those sources in the course of a related investigation targeting Modern Day Prophet, an alleged business front engaging in international drug trafficking and money laundering. The affidavit focuses largely on Ryba and defendant Jason Bradley's ties to Modern Day Prophet. Ryba is identified as Bradley's girlfriend or spouse.

         United States Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe determined the facts set forth in the affidavit established sufficient probable cause and, on February 10, 2015, issued the search warrant. On July 5, 2016, a grand jury returned an indictment naming Ryba, Bradley, and five others as codefendants and coconspirators. A superseding indictment followed on July 19, 2016, naming the same defendants.

         The superseding indictment charges Ryba with the following criminal violations: Count One - Drug Trafficking Conspiracy; Count Two - Conspiracy to Import a Controlled Substance; Count Three - Conspiracy to Commit Promotion Money Laundering; Count Four - Conspiracy to Commit International Money Laundering. ECF No. 23. The drug counts allege that Ryba and others were involved with the international sale of controlled substances and controlled substance analogues in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 963. The money laundering counts allege that Ryba and others conspired to conduct financial transactions, which they knew involved the proceeds of unlawful drug activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h). Some of the allegations in the superseding indictment rely on emails obtained during the search that Ryba challenges in the motion at bar. See, e.g., Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 23, ¶¶ 7, 29.

         Ryba asks the court to suppress evidence found in the Deborah and Deby email accounts and to exclude other evidence derived from those accounts, including emails on the account of Ryba argues that the affidavit used to establish probable cause to obtain those emails is defective. Specifically, Ryba asserts that Agent Smith, in authoring the affidavit, violated her Fourth Amendment protections by including inaccurate statements and omitting material exculpatory information with the intent to make, or in reckless disregard of making, the affidavit misleading. While Ryba concedes that the search warrant and affidavit are facially valid, she argues that without the misstatements and omissions in the affidavit, the Magistrate Judge would not have found probable cause to justify the searches.

         The court held a hearing on February 27, 2017 to address Ryba's motion to suppress and other pretrial motions. The bulk of the argument concerning the suppression motion focused on whether Ryba met the preliminary showing to even receive an evidentiary hearing on the matter. See Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978); United States v. Colkley, 899 F.2d 297 (4th Cir. 1990).[2] While the court was skeptical as to whether Ryba satisfied this burden, the court, in an abundance of caution, allowed Ryba to call Agent Smith as a witness and question him about the alleged defects of the affidavit. As explained below, the court finds that neither the contentions raised in the motion to suppress nor the testimony of Agent Smith support a conclusion that the affidavit was defective. Therefore, law enforcement had probable cause to conduct a search of the Deborah and Deby email accounts and the evidence obtained therein will not be excluded at trial.


         The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures and mandates that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation." U.S. Const, amend. IV. A defendant who asserts a Fourth Amendment violation by alleging that a facially valid search warrant affidavit is defective must satisfy the standard set forth in Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978). "To establish a Franks violation, a defendant must prove that the affiant either intentionally or recklessly made a materially false statement or that the affiant intentionally or recklessly omitted material information from the affidavit." United States v. Wharton, 840 F.3d 163, 168 (4th Cir. 2016).[3] In other words, Franks sets forth a two-prong test of intentionality and materiality, both of which the defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Lull. 824 F.3d 109, 115 (4th Cir. 2016). In the case at bar, Ryba has failed to establish that the alleged misstatements or omissions were material to the Magistrate Judge's finding of probable cause. Therefore, the court need not reach the intentionality prong of Franks in order to conclude that the search of Ryba's email accounts was proper under the Fourth Amendment.


         To prove the materiality prong under Franks, Ryba must show that if the Magistrate judge had disregarded the alleged false statements in the affidavit and considered the alleged omissions, then he would not have found probable cause to justify the search. Wharton. 840 F.3d at 169 (the court must "determine whether or not the corrected warrant affidavit would establish probable cause"). The alleged defects in the affidavit "must do more than potentially affect the probable cause determination: [they] must be 'necessary to the finding of probable cause."' Colkley, 899 F.2d at 301. If the "corrected" affidavit would have established probable cause, then Ryba's Fourth Amendment protections were not violated.


         In her motion to suppress, Ryba does not undermine the following facts set forth in the affidavit, which, standing alone, established probable cause to search Ryba's email accounts.[4] According to the affidavit, the DEA had been investigating Robert Schroeder and his coconspirators for drug trafficking and money laundering for months prior to the filing of the search warrant application. Aff. ¶¶ 6, 7. Law enforcement had conducted multiple controlled purchases of controlled substances and controlled substance analogues from Schroeder. Aff. ¶ 7. Schroeder, along with Ryan Buchanan and David Scholz, had signature authority on bank accounts for a business named Modern Day Prophet, which cooperating witnesses identified as a business front for trafficking drugs and laundering money. Aff. ¶ 10.

         Between September 2011 and September 2012, one of the Modern Day Prophet bank accounts received more than $940, 000 in deposits. Aff. ¶ 11. In March and April 2012, Modern Day Prophet wired a total of $185, 300 to Bradley's bank account at the China Construction Bank in Hong Kong. Aff. ¶ 12. Law enforcement believed Bradley was either Ryba's boyfriend or spouse. Aff. ¶¶ 14, 20. On March 30, 2012, an email from Ryba's Deborah account was sent to Schroeder with the subject line "Next shipments might arrive today.. All are in cinci.. All dhl." Aff. ¶ 22. The email contained shipping information of six packages, each originating in Hong Kong and destined for different addresses in Illinois and Ohio. Aff. ¶ 22. Some of the packages were addressed to Buchanan and Scholz, who, as mentioned, were involved with Modern Day Prophet. Aff. ¶ 22.

         On April 2, 2012, another email from the Deborah account was sent to Schroeder and similarly included shipping information of three international packages bound for different addresses in the United States. Aff. ¶ 27.[5] Those packages were addressed to "Dave or Robert, " "ryan bucannan, " and "robert s., " which match the names of the individuals with signatory authority on the Modern Day Prophet bank accounts. Aff. ¶¶ 10, 27. Seven of the nine packages referenced in March 30 and April 2, 2012 emails were sent to various United Parcel Service ("UPS") stores in Illinois and Ohio. Aff. ¶¶ 23, 28. The affidavit indicated that "the use of UPS Stores is a method of operation used by the SCHROEDER organization" to traffic controlled substances and controlled substance analogues. Aff. ¶ 23.

         Travel records reflected that Bradley and Ryba arrived in China on August 24, 2011 and returned to the United States from Hong Kong on June 8, 2012. Aff. ¶ 14. The affidavit identified China as a known source country for synthetically manufactured drugs and Hong Kong as a conduit country for shipping such substances from China. Aff. ¶ 15. While abroad, Bradley received payments from Modern Day Prophet into a Bank of America account in the United States, some of which were made by cashier's checks that were annotated as "inventory" or "materials." Aff. ¶ 16. Between September 2011 and September 2012, Modern Day Prophet transferred more than $220, 000 to Bradley's Bank of America account. Aff. ¶ 16. In total, Modern Day Prophet transferred more than $405, 300 to Bradley around the time Bradley and Ryba were Asia in 2011 and 2012.

         In February 2014, Ryba established an E* Trade investment profile that listed a home and email address. Aff. ¶ 19.[6] The profile showed Ryba's home address as a UPS store in Chicago, Illinois and the Deby ...

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