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Jailhouse Threats by Luis Soto Against Snitch Trigger 2 Hour Fatico Hearing Citing Spanish SHU and Bloods

By Matthew Russell Lee, Periscope video

SDNY COURTHOUSE, May 11 – Defendant Jesus Lopez walked into the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York courtroom of Judge Valerie E. Caproni to be sentenced on May 1 for driving 10 kilograms of cocaine from California to New York, as part of the USA v. Luis Soto prosecution. He went out in shackles: instant remand, see below.

   Ten days later on May 10 Judge Caproni conducted a two and a half hour Fatico hearing about Luis Soto himself, for allegedly having threatened and offered in the Metropolitan Correctional Center to pay to hurt a perceived snitch from Spain whom we will call "MM."

   MM himself was brought into Judge Caproni's low-ceiling courtroom in shackles, then taken back into her chambers as Soto's Federal Defender attorney began his long arguments against MM's testimony. It turns out MM did not full disclose being arrested in his native Spain in 2008, for an incident in which a gun was fired in a disco. MM also dissembled on when, once in New York, he learned that Spain would not give him a new passport.

  But Fatico hearings allow hearsay and MM was allowed to tell his story. It involved another defendant Inner City Press whose trial Inner City Press covered, Latique Johnson. MM pronounced it "Lie Johnson," described as head of the Bloods, allegedly contacted by Soto to hurt him. (While the Federal Defender's Mark B. Gombiner spoke vaguely about "the Bloods," Johnson was called the head of the Blood Hound Brims, here.)

  The evidence was all hearsay: MM's bunkmate or bunkie Rosario told MM that Soto was offering money to hurt him, and that he no longer wanted to share a cell with him since he was "hot," fingered as a snitch. (Judge Caproni insisted on calling him an informant.) MM asked to be put in the Segregated Housing Unit but there was no room in the SHU. So he asked to be put on Suicide Watch.

  But where were these threats conveyed? That was not proved, even by hearsay. Soto was brought through the unit MM was in, before the separation order was cited. Soto supposedly walked around asking, "Where is my co-D?" This was said to be a reference to MM even though he is not a listed co-defendant in Soto's case, or in any case.

  That seems to be what has outed MM as an informant: he doesn't not have "the paperwork," not being named in the right cases. Soto was apparently flashing legal papers around in the MCC, even though he is said not to read English.

   Judge Caproni ended the Fatico hearing by asking Assistant U.S. Attorney Thane Wren to find more information about when all of these protagonists were in the clinic and might have spoken to each other. She reserved decision. Inner City Press will continue to cover this case.

  He was wearing a suit; he had been allowed out on bond while awaiting sentencing due to his mother having Stage Four cancer. Before the sentencing he uploaded a video directed at Judge Caproni but still online as of this writing on Vimeo, here.

   The courtroom was full, with two U.S. Marshals in the back row, and the two front rows, Inner City Press was later informed by a participant in the proceeding, filled by judges from China. Lopez' lawyer Jeff Greco argued in his sentencing submission for time served, essentially one month.

  But Judge Caproni, after asking Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Rhen why the government wasn't seeking forfeiture of the truck Lopez used to drive the drugs - "there's a lot of equity in there," she said -- looked sternly at Lopez.

   Judge Caproni was not impressed by Lopez' statement that he took drugs because he was bored, that boredom was one of his triggers. She said she did not believe that he had only agreed to drive the drugs in order to feed his own habit. First she sentenced him to 60 month, five years, in prison.

  Then as the U.S. Marshals rustled in the row behind Inner City Press, she said she would be remanding Lopex into custody today. Right now. Her courtroom deputy handed the Marshals an order to that effect.

   Defense attorney Greco said that Lopez' mother could die at any time, and that the Bureau of Prisons would be unlikely to let him out to attend her funeral. Judge Caproni said there was no way to know when his mother would die, and that she had allowed him to remain out on bond pending sentencing so he could spent time with her. The Chinese judges sat as Jesus Lopez took his wallet out of his pants and put his hands out for shackling.

  A well known courtroom artist in the SDNY has told Inner City Press about the time she managed to sketch a similar remand of a higher profile defendant, Bernie Madoff. But there was no artist present for the remand of Jesus Lopez, and cameras are not allowed - only this article. The case is U.S. v. Lopez, part of the larger conspiracy prosecution U.S. v. Soto et al., 18-cr-00282 (Caproni).

  Notably one floor above in 40 Foley Square, a man who pled guilty to stealing $7 million in Medicare and Medicaid fraud has had his sentencing delayed for a year already, and perhaps another year, so that his wife can finish a medical residency program. That case is U.S v. Javed, 16-cr-00601-VSB. Unlike the unpublicized case of Jesus Lopez, the Office of the US Attorney for the SDNY announced the Javed sentencing to the press (but not its subsequent deferral). Click here for that story.

  Which approach is the right one? How can these disparities be explained? These are among the questions that Inner City Press will be pursuing, in the SDNY. Watch this site, and the new @SDNYLIVE Twitter feed.

Background: Even in Judge Caproni's courtroom, there are more positive or lenient stories. When Todd Howe, who pled guilty in the New York State corruption case(s), came up for sentencing on April 5, Judge Caproni was told that Howe is now working more than 12 hours a day in Idaho, on ski slopes and now a golf course. After his guilty plea he had been remanded to the Metropolitan Correctional Center when he disputed to Capital One some credit card charges and the government believed it to be another attempted fraud.

With him out of MCC for seven months, Judge Caproni said it may have just been a mistake. She put off sentencing Howe, instead putting him on five years probation. If he "stays clean" during that time, it all goes away. If not, he faces serious time.

  In the elevator down after Howe's lawyer, in what she called her last criminal sentencing, said Howe still respects government service after his lobbying career meltdown, Inner City Press asked Howe what he thought for example of congestion pricing. He laughed and said it is not needed in Idaho. Meanwhile a shackled prisoner Jones was led into Judge Caproni's now empty courtroom to plead guilty to selling crack in The Bronx and hiding a gun after a 1999 felony conviction. That sentencing is set for August 1. Inner City Press and @SDNYLIVE will be there.


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