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Joel Tapia Got 188 Months Then Wrote to Press, Now 2255 Motion and IFP Status Denied

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon, Periscope

SDNY COURTHOUSE, June 28 – In the jury trial of US v. Joel Tapia before U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Kimba M. Wood on June 19, 2019 the government showed pages from the notebook of a drug intermediary.

  By June 24 after playing WhatsApp audio and showing a Boost Mobile account with a billing address at their (T-Mobile for now) headquarters in Lenexa, Kansas, the government rested. Tapia's lawyer Calvin H. Scholar reserved his right to make motions.

  Only on July 2, 2019 was this verdict entered into the docket: "JURY VERDICT as to Joel Tapia (5) Guilty on Count 1sss; Not Guilty on Count 2sss,3sss." The U.S. Attorney's Office did not issue any press release.

In December 2021, to her credit, Judge Woods has a public listen-only call-in line for a co-defendant's Violation of Supervised Release proceeding: "ORDER as to Jason Llanes: The Court will hold a remote violation of supervised release conference on Thursday, December 9, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. Member of the press and public who wish to join the conference may dial 917-933-2166 and enter Conference ID 161426712, with their telephones on mute. Consistent with the standing orders of this court and local rules, no recording or rebroadcasting of the proceeding is permitted. SO ORDERED. (Status Conference set for 12/9/2021 at 12:30 PM before Judge Kimba M. Wood) (Signed by Judge Kimba M. Wood on 12/1/2021) (lnl)."

 These call-in lines increase transparency and, where applicable, general deterrence, and ought to be maintain or restored (for example in US v. Ghislaine Maxwell.).

  On July 7, 2021, this: "JUDGMENT IN A CRIMINAL CASE as to Joel Tapia (5). The defendant was found guilty on Count(s) 1sss after a plea of not guilty. All open counts are Dismissed. IMPRISONMENT: 188 months. SUPERVISED RELEASE: 5 years. The court makes the following recommendations to the Bureau of Prisons: That the defendant be incarcerated at Fort Dix, or a facility as close to New York City as possible. The defendant is remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal. Assessment: $100.00 due immediately. (Signed by Judge Kimba M. Wood on 7/7/21)."

  Joel Tapia sent a May 18, 2021 letter, not visible in the docket; he mailed it and a cover letter to Inner City Press on June 5, photo here.

Jump cut to June 27, 2024: "OPINION & ORDER as to Joel Tapia re: [758] MOTION to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. 2255 filed by Joel Tapia. For the foregoing reasons, Tapia's motion is DENIED. Because Tapia has not made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, the Court declines to issue a certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253. Furthermore, the Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that an appeal from this Order would not be taken in good faith and thus Tapia may not proceed in forma pauperis for any such appeal. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 44445 (1962). (Signed by Judge Kimba M. Wood on 6/27/2024)."

Back on August 12, this: "MEMO ENDORSEMENT as to Joel Tapia on re: [713] I am writing today to ask that you allow me access, via a court order, to all of the sealed documents on the district courts docket, and that you kindly direct your staff to provide me with a copy with these documents by sending them to me via U.S. Mail...ENDORSEMENT...Ms. Drake's request for access to sealed documents in United States v. Joel Tapia is granted. The Government has objected tothe unsealing of all sealed documents in this case, but has stated that they have no objection to Ms. Drake (and no one else)viewing these documents. The Court grants Ms. Drake's request to the extent that she may view all the sealed documents in this case, but she may do so only on condition that she not divulge their contents to anyone else, not even the Defendant, absent a Court Order. If Ms. Drake seeks further unsealing, she shall ascertain the Government's position before requesting Court action. The Court will not provide courtesy copies of the sealed documents. Ms. Drake may contact the Records Management Unit for further guidance and may inquire whether the Government is able to provide courtesy copies of the documents at issue."

 On June 25, 2019 Assistant US Attorney Olga Zverovich in her closing emphasized to the jury how Joel Tapia tried to keep a "clean" personal phone and a separate TracPhone for narcotics. She played audio of Tapia yelling angrily when he got a drug call on his personal line.
  Tapia's lawyer Calvin Scholar, meanwhile, submitted a detailed request to admit into evidence the full contents of a hard drive of surveillance footage of 1428 Fteley Avenue in the Bronx that law enforcement seized from Tapia's auto body shop. The request was accompanied by a 13 page exhaustive list of the many times Tapia's auto body shop was mentioned in the trial and in the proffer sessions that preceded it. But how to know when the jury comes back?

  On June 20 the June 19 witness continued on the stand, testifying how after he and his co-defendants (the word seems to work in Spanish, or at least Spanglish) were arrested and all in the MCC, some on different floors, they were able to speak together about how to get eight kilos of heroin out of a bathroom wall in The Bronx.

   The government's agents, it seems, had broken some of the bathroom walls under a search warrant, of the type never put in PACER in the SDNY. A co-defendant's mother said the damage and fix up meant that there was hot water in the bathroom at last. But the drugs weren't found.

  To get the drugs, the co-defendants all went to Saturday church in the MCC. They spoke though on different floors though vents. They smoked K-2 and took another drug called Chinita.

  All of this was elicited by the questioning of the Assistant US Attorney, whose office is right next to the MCC. The drugs were recovered from the wall; the witness said he mostly smoked K-2 with his co-defendants because he didn't want them to know he was already meeting with the government.

The case is US v. Guillen et al., 17-cr-512 (Wood)


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