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Trial of Joel Tapia Ended With A Whimper Now Guillen Gets 312 Months Asks How to Appeal

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon, Periscope

SDNY COURTHOUSE, Sept 27 – 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.

  Nor on this: on December 18, 2020, Judge Woods held a sentencing for Gabriel Guillen. Inner City Press again covered it. Judge Woods described the weight of the drugs, and the math of the sentencing: 312 months.

  Guillen asked how he could appeal in two weeks, if he is in lockdown. Through your lawyer, was the answer.

 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. But now of course they do. We'll have more on this trial.

  Back on June 19: Who is Janet? The prosecutor asked in English, translated then into Spanish and this answer: Un cliente, a client. She bought cocaine, 50 grams, every 7 to 10 days.

   Meanwhile the defendant's CJA lawyer Calvin H. Scholar of 225 Broadway has asked Judge Wood to preclude the government from presenting certain exhibits, which Inner City Press has requested. Back on May 15 Scholar wrote that telephone recordings 427, 448 and others up to 2949 are "irrelevant under Fed. R. Evid. 401."

  There is also the matter of "a firearm in a Bronx apartment prior to the arrest of Mr. Tapia. It is important to note that Mr. Tapia had no ties to that apartment at the time the Government recovered the weapon. See ECF No. 171, Transcript Order Status: Pending."

 Inner City Press has asked the US Attorney's Office for access to the exhibits they are presenting, in the otherwise empty penthouse courtroom of Judge Kimba Wood. Watch this site, and @InnerCityPress and the new @SDNYLIVE.

Back in May also in the SDNY the U.S. government began a trial against three men on for staged slip and fall accidents and fraudulent lawsuits. But from its first day the trial raised issues about Bloods gang culture, the prosecutors' propensity to use conflicted criminals as witness to go after low hanging fruit, and the potential of having witnessed the 9/11/01 attacks to sway a jury. 

 On the afternoon of May 21, defendant Ryan Rainford's lawyer Calvin H. Scholar in his summation to the jury said that Doctor Peter Kalkanis with his plea agreement with the government was lying, was crying crocodile tears. To both phrases, the government objected. Judge Stein told the jury, this is the lawyer's argument. You make your own mind, based on demeanor of the witness.

  Scholar pointed the jury to specifics lines from the transcript which he said showed Kalkanis lying. He asked them to request read-backs while the deliberate. But will they? @SNDYLIVE opines that there ought to be a more effective way of providing public notice when juries ask questions, sending notes to the judge. Watch this site.

 On the morning of May 21, Assistant US Attorney Alexandra Rothman in her summation to the jury relied on the testimony of (Bloods member) Reginald Dewitt, and to jotting by the slip and fall fraud doctor Kalkanis. She emphasized that Clarence Tucker knew that Robert Locust fixed computers. Doesn't this undermine the argument that Locust is a big enough fish to justify this Federal prosecution, using the witnesses it has? We'll have more on this.

  On May 20 the U.S. Attorney's office put on the witness stand one of its paralegals and message extracters, Ariella Fetman, to read Bryan Duncan's parts from his text exchanges with Patient Walker, who said he was homeless and needed money for a room after his surgery. The Assistant U.S. Attorney was reading Walker's text messages, with lines like "Are you serious, my N-word?" There were objections before the reading, and during. Judge Stein asked the government, are you closing today? Things are coming to a close. Watch this site.

  Back on May 16 after a three day break, Doctor Peter Kalkanis, more responsible for the scheme than the drivers, was being walked though his testimony by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Rothman. He explained how the unneeded surgeries cost $18,000.

This money was lent by finance companies at terms he called predatory - but he too took his fee. Those getting the unneeded surgeries were paid $1000. Kalkanis estimated he made some $2 million from the scheme.

 On May 17 under cross examination by Duncan's lawyer Ikiesha T. Al-Shabazz, Kankanis starting naming finance companies: Fast Track, Golden Pair, Sunset Management Funding." Ms. Al-Shabazz asked him to distinguish patients, which Duncan was in 2012, from drivers which he became, from what Kalkanis called "runners." Kalkanis said that Raymond Christmas was a patient who was later paid $50 to $100 for referrals, on a matrix. Christmas referred his cases to Rasul a/k/a Reginald Dewitt, the government's witness. Kalkanis remembered the name Victor Faison and even how to spell it - but not if his case was fake or not. He offered to start naming "troublemakers."

  May 17 ended with the cross examination of government witness Martin, who pre-programmed his iPhone to drop the "c" from faxt and fuxk and refused to way the N-word although he wrote it in his WhatsApp text messages with Bryan Duncan. The latter came up because Martin got into dramatic readings of the texts, first with prosecutor Alexandra Rothman (they had rehearsed, he said, on Monday or Tuesday when the jury did not sit) then with Duncan's attorney Ms. Al-Shabazz.

 Things got testy, with Martin saying "Next question" and coughing loudly to show he was sick. How the jury will take this is not clear. Summations are set for Tuesday, May 21. We'll have more on this, and on this: why is it the drivers being prosecuted? Inner City Press will continue to follow this trial.

 In open arguments before U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Sidney H. Stein the lawyer for defendant Robert Locust, Mitchell Dinnerstein, told the jury to expect to see on the stand a well dressed doctor who had led the scheme, Peter Kalkanis. (Judge Stein retorted that Dinnerstein himself was well dressed.)

  On May 9 there was a dapper gentleman out in the hall outside Courtroom 23A. Inner City Press was told he was none other than Kalkanis, but that he will only go on the stand late on Friday, with the jury then not sitting early next week by the judge's decision. Some joked, it is a try-out of Kalkanis as a witness? Will he appear dressed down in a sweat suit?

  At day's end Inner City Press spoke with defendant Locust, who shaking his head said the government had just made sh*t up about him, and tried to entrap him into committing some violence. A lawyer in the case told Inner City Press it was unclear if "Bloods witness" Reginald Dewitt is in fact in custody; two government agents appears to be assigned to him. More and more questions are arising.

   On May 7 the lawyer for incarcerated defendant Bryan Duncan, Ikeisha T. Al-Shabazz, argued that U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman's office is going after the "low hanging fruit."  She might have added, "using a Bloods member to do it."

 On May 8 Reginald Dewitt a/k/a Rasul was on the stand for cross examination. Dinnerstein asked Dewitt about the time he got maced by the mother of his 10 year old daughter, who he brought home late after drinking, he said, three beers. He later evaded a question by saying, I was drunk and fishing a lot.

  Dewitt proceeded to say he earned only $10,000 to $15,000 dollars from sixty fake slip and fall cases, and that he didn't remember agreeing in writing with the government in June 2017 to wear a wire. Judge Stein did not allow Dinnerstein to show Dewitt the 3500 material, saying Dewitt had already denied it. Falsely?

  Dinnerstein made a point of getting Dewitt to name the prosecutor and FBI agent he had met with -- "Nick and Rick" -- then emphasizing how close Dewitt had gotten with them. Judge Stein then made a point of telling "Mitch" to proceed. It's that kind of trial. And this kind: the government is seeking to use as Witness-9 a man who worked as a pimp including for a prostitute who was a minor." And the government wants to limit cross examination on this, as opposed by Ryan Rainford's lawyer Calvin H. Scholar. So the US is using a Bloods member and a pimp of a child to go after drivers for a slip and fall fraud scheme?

 Back on May 7, Berman's Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Rothman objected to the phrase, or perhaps only the word "hanging." Judge Stein sustained the objection, saying "I don't even know what that means," and told Ms. Al-Shabazz to move on.    

Likewise when Dinnerstein asked of one of the lawyers involved in the slip and fall lawsuit, "Where's George?" Judge Stein stopped him and told the jury, "What law enforcement does is not of concern to this case." 

Later Judge Stein told Dinnerstein, with the jury out on a ten minute break, "You are not in the good graces of the court. I'm surprised at you." He told the group of seven lawyers that it had been a "very sloppy opening" and then asked why the witnesses mentioned in motions filed with him were not named.   

One of the witnesses whose WhatsApp messages with Duncan will be admitted into evidence has a pattern, Ms. Al-Shabazz argued, of replacing all c's with k's. She filed with Judge Stein a copy of a New York City Police Department "General Gang Rules" for the Bloods, which lists as Rule 26 "Always cross out your C's" - because Crips begins with C. Judge Stein said he will allow it.   

Another witness with mental issues relates those back to what he saw on September 11, 2001. The defense says this will sway the jury to the witness' side. On these and other questions, Judge Stein said the scope of cross examination will be decided as the trial goes forward.

Photo of
                        SDNY courthouse, Worth St entrance, (c) Inner
                        City Press

Judge Stein told the jury not to read press coverage about the case, while predicting there would be no press coverage of it. But why then are there three separate Assistant U.S. Attorneys on the case, two marshals shepherding Duncan in and out of the courtroom even during breaks, and rulings to keep out information about the lawyers and funding companies behind this slip and fall fraud scheme? Inner City Press will continue to cover this trial. More on Patreon, here. The case is U.S. v. Bryan Duncan, et al., 18-cr-00289 (Stein).


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