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Deterrence of Colombian Drug Transporters Mulled In Fatico Hearing With DEA Agent in SDNY

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Patreon

SDNY COURTHOUSE, August 28 – A boat with no flag was intercepted by the US Coast Guard on March 17, 2018 some 140 nautical miles south of the border between Costa Rica and Panama. On board were 954 kilograms of cocaine and also some meth.

The three men on the ship were arrested and on August 28 they were at a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, with Inner City Press the only media present.  

Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan was asked to seal the transcribed, and by implication the courtroom. Inner City Press has previously written to his chamber opposing the sealing of his sentencing in US v. Rodriguez, 05-cr-221, ostensibly due to danger to this witness said to have cooperated with the government in a case that began in 2005.

On August 28 the courtroom remained open, as it should have been, for US v. Rodriguez as well. Inner City Press is voluntarily choosing to leave out some details in this format. More on Patreon here.

On August 28 US Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Ronald Sandoval testified for nearly two hours. He described how cocaine is produced and exported from Colombia, where he has worked for the past five years.    

After the flagless "Go-Fast" ship was intercepted off the border of Costa Rica and Panama, Agent Sandoval came to New York to participate in proffer sessions with the two defendants. (There is a third co-defendant who choose not to participate in the August 28 Fatico hearing but whose sentencing will nevertheless be adjournded until the issues raised are addressed).   

At first on August 28 there was some confusion between the two defendants, who are half-brothers, as Agent Sandoval repeatedly referred to "they" when the proffer sessions had been conducted separately.   

Finally it because clear: defendant Saul Calonjes Salas had twice referred in his proffer session to being kidnapped and extorted back in Colombia, by a man he referred to as Pacancito. He also showed Agent Sandoval the photo of a Drug Trafficking Organization chief, information which has become more valuable to the US government after Sandoval was able to confirm it with a confidential source he cultivated and signed up in March 2019.   

Initially, Agent Sandoval said on August 28, the information about this DTO chief could not be acted on by the US due to a "corruption issue" withe US' partner in the Colombian police in Cali. This is no longer confidential: the Colombian police official with the corruption issue is now awaiting extradition to Miami.   

Agent Sandoval described how the men had been apprehended. The DEA was conducting a wiretap on a DTO leader named Mario Orobio, in the course of which a screenshot of a Go-fast boat which had gotten lost was intercepted. Using that information, the Coast Guard picked up the boat, and the men were brought to the SDNY and MCC jail where Jeffrey Epstein died.   

   Defendant Ferney Salas Torres apparently told the US Coast Guard that he had been the captain, which may hurt him at sentencing. The lead defendant in the indictment, Heyder Renteria Solis, chose not to take part in the August 28 Fatico hearing but will see his sentencing put off until the issues raised at the hearing are resolved. The case is US v. Renteria Solis, 18-cr-508 (Sullivan).   

 During the course of his testimony Agent Sandoval said that 40 to 50 percent of "mariners" arrested transporting cocaine by sea from Colombia have previously served jail time in the United States.   

  Judge Sullivan said this number seemed high, and has asked Assistant US Attorney Sebastian Swett to provide the data by the end of next week. Then the two defendants' lawyers have three weeks to make written submissions; the government gets a week and then the defendants a further week for a reply.  Then, the imposition of three prison sentences, which Judge Sullivan said are sure to be long.

  The degree to which defendants who served US jail time then return to Colombia and take to the seas again with drugs impacts, Judge Sullivan said on August 28, the role of general deterrence in the sentences he will impose.

   Despite the discussion of the defendants' cooperation, at least Saul Calonjes Salas providing a photo of a DTO leader, this does not seem to have given rise to any 5K1.1 letter from the government. Is there such a letter in the still-sealed case and sentencing of Jose Rodriguez before Judge Sullivan? We'll have more on this.

Jose Rodriguez pleaded guilty to narcotics charges back in June 2005 was belatedly set to be sentenced on 26 July 2019 but then asked that it be delayed three weeks and sealed, in a joint request with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Inner City Press was present; Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan corrected told Assistant US Attorney Nicholas W. Chiuchiolo that he should make his request to seal in writing.

  On August 3 Inner City Press wrote to Judge Sullivan, copying AUSA Chiuchiolo and defendant Jose Rodriguez' lawyer Peter Joseph Guadagnino, about and opposing the proposed sealing: "August 3, 2019 

Via e-mail to [Chambers] and counsel by e-mail 

The Honorable Richard J. Sullivan  United States District Court Southern District of New York  40 Foley Square  New York, NY 10007 

Re: United States v. Jose Rodriguez, 05-cr-221 (RJS) 

Dear Judge Sullivan:     

I am a journalist interested in covering the above-captioned sentencing, as well as other criminal proceedings. As such I was in your courtroom 15A on July 26, 2019 when the defendant's counsel and the Government sought a sidebar (denied) and then that the sentencing be sealed.    

You directed them to make their requests to seal in writing on or before August 16, 2019, but seemed to indicate that even their requests could be made under seal.    

I am writing this letter, copying both counsel, to express my interest and that of Inner City Press in covering the sentencing and therefore in having an opportunity to review and if necessary respond to any requests to seal and exclude the press.    

On July 26 Your Honor cited U.S. v. Amodeo; reference is also made to United States v. Haller, 837 F.2d 84, 87 (2d Cir. 1988) and United States v. Alcantara, 396 F.3d 189, 196 (2d Cir. 2005). 

I note that as of August 3 there are no such requests to seal filed in the docket on PACER, not even any record of the sentencing submissions presumably submitted on July 11 and July 18, 2019.  Again, I am submitting this as a letter by email to Chambers and both counsel, and not as a motion opposing sealing, in part because I have not seen any request(s) for sealing.  

 I and Inner City Press will appreciate being informed when and what portions of any requests for filing will be available for viewing and possible response, and being apprised of rights to attend and cover the sentencing.  Respectfully,  Matthew Russell Lee Inner City Press 
cc: Nicholas W. Chiuchiolo, Assistant U.S. Attorney (by e-mail)  Peter Joseph Guadagnino, Esq. (by e-mail)"
  But still by August 28, there was no response - not only directly from chambers or the District Executive, but from either counsel. Inner City Press will have more on this.

  Inner City Press initially voluntarily chose not to disclose even the case name. But it must have an opportunity to be heard on any possible sealing of the publicly announced sentencing which it went to attend and cover and was then pulled back.

   Tellingly, the sentencing submissions by the government due July 11 and by the Defendants due July 18 were not even listed in the docket as sealed documents, and still as of August 6 are not. It is as if they were never filed.

  On 9 July 2019 before SDNY Judge Loretta A. Preska: listed on PACER and in the SDNY lobby for 10 am before her was the case of USA v. Connors Person, et al, 17-cr-683, complete with letters of support from the head bank regulators of the state of Alabama.

  But when Inner City Press arrived at 10:10 am, there was a shackled defendant with corn rows at the defense table. His lawyer stood and summoned Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Balsamello out into the hall by the elevators.  When they returned, at the same time as two of the defendant's family members, Judge Preska asked about those present in the room, and summoned the lawyers up for a sidebar - with a court reporter, which may later be significant.

  After the sidebar discussion, Judge Preska called the case as US v. Santino-Barrero (phonetically - it was not written down anywhere.) Then Judge Preska asked the defendants' family members to stand, then the legal interns, then other interns introduced by one of the Marshals.

  "Is that you in the back, Mister Lee?" Judge Preska asked.  Inner City Press previously reported daily on the UN bribery trial and sentencing of Patrick Ho before Judge Preska, once answering in open court her question about press access to exhibits in that case. So the answer was Yes.

  I'm going to have to ask you to leave, Judge Preska said. Inner City Press considered asking why, right there, but decided against it. It has recently been advised to not ask so many question, even as its question about a suddenly sealed June 17 sentencing by SDNY Judge Lorna Schofield remains unanswered, see below.

  The PACER terminal in the SDNY Press Room does not list a Santino Barrero as a defendant. The Bureau of Prison's website is only searchable with a first name, which was not given.

  Inner City Press will have more on this - see also @InnerCityPress and the new @SDNYLIVE.


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