FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Richard G. Stearns, U.S. District Judge]
J. O'Connor, Jr. for appellant.
R. De Vincentis, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom
Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney, was on brief, for
Thompson, Kayatta, and Barron, Circuit Judges.
THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.
Romero pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and
got a 276-month prison sentence, a below-guidelines sentence
- his guidelines range was 360 months to life. Ably
represented on appeal by new counsel, Romero principally
claims that his incarcerative term is both procedurally
flawed and substantively unreasonable. Concluding, as we do,
that his attacks miss the mark, we affirm.
THE CASE GOT HERE
this appeal follows a guilty plea, we take the facts from the
undisputed parts of the probation office's presentence
report ("PSR") and the transcripts of the key court
hearings. See, e.g., United States v.
Edwards, 857 F.3d 420, 421 n.1 (1st Cir.), cert.
denied, 138 S.Ct. 283 (2017).
6 p.m. on July 23, 2012, masked gunmen abducted Manuel Amparo
and Jose Daniel Felipe Castro near a house on Allston Street
in Lawrence, Massachusetts. What happened is this. As Amparo
and Castro pulled into the driveway in Amparo's car, a
white van pulled in behind them and four men wearing masks
and black t-shirts emblazoned "POLICE" charged out
shouting "police." Three of the men had pistols and
the fourth had a shotgun. One of the men smacked Amparo on
the side of his face and forced him and Castro into the van.
The men then put a hood over Amparo's head and bound his
feet and hands. The van sped off to Manchester, New
Hampshire, it turns out. Responding to a 911 call from
Amparo's wife, police found a plastic handcuff on the
ground near Amparo's car and a GPS locator attached to
the car's back bumper.
the drive to the Granite State, Amparo was periodically
beaten (this part of the PSR is phrased in the passive
voice). The abductors eventually brought him and Castro to a
house in Manchester. One of the abductors put Amparo on the
phone with someone who threatened to kill him if he did not
pay a ransom. An abductor also burned him with a hot iron and
repeatedly punched and kicked him.
point that night, Amparo freed his hands and feet, removed
his hood, and escaped through a window. He started knocking
on the neighbors' doors, looking for help. Responding to
the commotion, one neighbor called the police and said he had
a man on his porch who claimed he had been kidnapped. This
was around 4:30 a.m. on July 24.
on the scene, officers heard from Amparo about his ordeal,
including where he had escaped from. And they learned too
that the suspects and another victim where still there. With
backup help, the officers headed to the location, freed
Castro, and arrested Jose Guzman, Henry Maldonado, and Thomas
Wallace. Searches (either with a party's consent or with
a warrant) later revealed guns, police paraphernalia (badges,
t-shirts with "POLICE" on them, handcuffs,
etc.), Amparo's wallet, cell phones, and blood
on the van's carpet.
the investigation, law enforcement learned that Guzman,
Maldonado, and Wallace participated in a Lawrence-area
kidnapping gang led by Danny Veloz (nicknamed
"Maestro") that also included Romero, Luis Reynoso,
and Jose Matos. The crew focused on abducting drug dealers
and holding them for ransom (in the form of cash or drugs).
Guzman, Maldonado, Wallace, and Reynoso cooperated with the
government. From their statements, a clear picture emerged of
the Amparo/Castro abductions. Matos installed the GPS tracker
on Amparo's car and stored uniforms and weapons used
during the kidnapping. Veloz tracked the GPS data and clued
the crew in on Amparo's whereabouts by calling Guzman.
When Veloz said Amparo was near his Lawrence home, Guzman,
Maldonado, Wallace, Reynoso, and Romero grabbed Amparo and
Castro at gunpoint. Once at Maldonado's Manchester home,
Veloz and Guzman continued to talk by phone throughout the
evening as Maldonado tortured Amparo to get him to pay a
ransom. Eventually, Wallace drove Reynoso and Romero back to
Lawrence (Maldonado and Guzman stayed with the two abductees)
and then returned to Maldonado's home.
that, the cooperating witnesses also talked about a May 9,
2012 attempted kidnapping on Saratoga Street in Lawrence, and
a July 8, 2012 kidnapping on Whiting Street in Lynn,
Massachusetts. Guzman fingered Romero as part of the crew
present on Saratoga Street for the attempted kidnapping (the
attempt fell through when the police responded to reports of
suspicious activity). Guzman and Maldonado also fingered
Romero as part of the Whiting Street crew that kidnapped a
drug dealer at gunpoint and kept him in Maldonado's
basement (Guzman and Romero beat and kicked him, apparently)
until the dealer's associate paid a ransom.
his arrest, a federal grand jury indicted Romero -along with
Guzman, Maldonado, Wallace, Veloz, Reynoso, and Matos -for
conspiring to "unlawfully seize, confine, kidnap,
abduct, and carry away" two persons "and to
willfully transport them in interstate commerce and hold them
in ransom, in violation of" 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a) and
(c). Reduced to its essentials, § 1201(a) punishes
anyone who "unlawfully seizes, confines, inveigles,
decoys, kidnaps, abducts, or carries away and holds for
ransom or reward or otherwise any person . . . when . . . the
person is willfully transported in interstate or foreign
commerce . . . ." And § 1201(c) provides that
"[i]f two or more persons conspire to violate this
section and one or more of such persons do any overt act to
effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be punished
by imprisonment for any term of years or for life."
Romero initially pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Romero's pretrial detention, his then-attorney gave
prosecutors a letter that he said Romero had given him.
Signed by Maldonado, the letter purported to recant his
identification of Romero as a player in the July 23
kidnapping. Maldonado told prosecutors in an interview that
he wrote the letter because Romero had threatened him by
showing him a shank and having some guys tell him they knew
where his family lived (Maldonado has a wife and two
children). A later search of Romero's cell uncovered a
tooth brush sharpened to a point.
agreed to wear a secret recording device and talk to Romero
in prison about Romero's plan to have him recant his
identification. And the tape captured Romero inculpating
himself in the July 23 conspiracy. Here is a taste of what he
I was the first one that hit [Amparo], 'Be quiet,'
and then [Wallace] hit him hard. Bang! Bang! Bang! Holy shit!
. . . [Wallace] cracked him. When I hit him . . . he bled a
little bit, but when that dude hit him with the grip of the
shotgun, . . . blood was spurting everywhere! That poor
[Reynoso] in the back . . . .
This is the third time I went to do something with [Reynoso].
. . . He's not built for that.
while complaining about what Veloz had paid him for his
participation, Romero also said:
I was out there doing my thing on my own too. Do you remember
one time when he says to me [unintelligible], Oh, how did you
buy that car? Not with you . . . . The most I ever see you
with, motherfuckers is five stacks . . . . I went with
another team and I make 50 stacks one night. One night, one
hit. With [Veloz] it's 5, 5, 5. No more . . . . It's
like, you don't want us to get fat, you want us to, like
maintain and go.
then shifted to a discussion about the letter Maldonado had
given his attorney. "Listen off the book,"
[Guzman's] the one . . . when we first, listen got when
we first got, first got in the tank together, [Guzman's]
- he's a dirty dude - all through this he told me, yo. .
. . At first he tried to tell me in Spanish to tell [Veloz]
to swear about everything about the guns and everything and
then he said "Yo, . . . tell them that it was [Veloz]
and [Romero] that put you up to all of this you heard?
you said this shit to your attorney," Romero responded,
"I can leave." To that, Maldonado replied:
My man . . . I've . . . told them exactly everything that
I wrote in the letter everything. Everything that you told me
to tell him. Everything, and . . . I haven't still come
face to face with the dude with the prosecutor but when I do
come with the prosecutor even though I know he's gonna
know that I'm lying it doesn't matter cause it's
my word, you know what I'm saying.
don't know how . . . that shit works," Romero
stated, "because if you already went to a grand jury . .
. [a]nd you gave a confession, then, they gonna hit you with
perjury." And later in the conversation, Romero said to
Maldonado that "if you say . . . what you were just
telling me . . ., that in the pen . . . [Guzman] said . . .
'We are going to say that it was [Romero] and
[Veloz]' that thing gets me out of this mess . . .
." "Everything you told me to say I'm gonna
say," Maldonado stressed. "I'm ...