United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge
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.
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,
email@example.com (the "Deborah
account") and firstname.lastname@example.org (the
"Deby account"). In the Matter of the Search of
Info. Associated with Deborahryba@gmail.com and
Debyryba@gmail.com that is Stored at Premises
Controlled by the Google Corp., No. 5:15-MJ-6 (W.D. Va.
Feb. 10, 2015). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
email@example.com. 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.
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). 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.
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). 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
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.
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. 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. ¶
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.
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. 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.
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.
February 2014, Ryba established an E* Trade investment
profile that listed a home and email address. Aff. ¶
The profile showed Ryba's home address as a UPS store in
Chicago, Illinois and the Deby account