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United States v. Laureano-Salgado

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 2, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JOSÉ LAUREANO-SALGADO, a/k/a Geo; PEDRO L. RAMÍREZ-RIVERA, a/k/a Peter Pai, Defendants, Appellants.

          APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO Hon. William E. Smith, U.S. District Judge

          Carlos M. Sánchez La Costa for appellant José Laureano-Salgado.

          Irma R. Valldejuli for appellant Pedro L. Ramírez-Rivera.

          Victor O. Acevedo-Hernández, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Francisco A. Besosa- Martínez, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Thompson and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          Thompson, Circuit Judge.

         Overview

         The government charged "La ONU" gangbangers José Laureano-Salgado and Pedro Ramírez-Rivera (sometimes collectively called "appellants") with helping murder a "La Rompe ONU" gangbanger nicknamed "Pekeke" (real name Christian Toledo-Sánchez), among other crimes[1] - thus violating the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering ("VICAR") statute, see 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1), as well as a statute banning the use or carry of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, see 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A).[2] Killing La Rompe members, the government alleged and proved, was central to La ONU's mission. And vice versa.

         A jury ultimately convicted Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera of these and other gang-related crimes. And we affirmed. See Ramírez-Rivera, 800 F.3d at 12. Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera later moved the district judge for a new trial premised on allegations of newly-discovered evidence that supposedly showed Pekeke died at the hands of La Rompe, not La ONU.[3] The judge denied the motion, however. Unhappy with this ruling, Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera ask us to reverse.[4] Unpersuaded by their arguments (discussed in a bit), we affirm.

         Testimony at Appellants' Trial About Pekeke's Murder

         Among the witnesses called at appellants' trial were three cooperating coconspirators: ex-La ONU members Wesley Figueroa-Cancel, José Gutiérrez-Santana, and Christian Figueroa-Viera. Pieced together, their testimony presented the following picture of the events leading to Pekeke's death.[5]

         Figueroa-Cancel, Gutiérrez-Santana, and Laureano-Salgado attended a meeting in August 2010 where La ONU bosses planned Pekeke's murder. Their plot contemplated that a man named "Joshua" would do the deed (Joshua was a non-La ONU member whose grandmother lived right next door to Pekeke). La ONU members - including Ramírez-Rivera (who participated by speakerphone during the meeting) - promised to pay Joshua for his service. Following the orders of their La ONU superiors to a T, Gutiérrez-Santana gave Joshua a gun and Laureano-Salgado gave Joshua a car. La ONU leaders also promised to send a rescue team to get Joshua out of the housing project after he offed Pekeke, just in case Pekeke's La Rompe allies fought back.

         Joshua killed Pekeke the next day (Joshua called Figueroa-Cancel on a cellphone during the killing so Figueroa-Cancel could hear Pekeke die) - with Laureano-Salgado, Ramírez-Rivera, Gutiérrez-Santana, and at least two other La ONU members serving on the rescue squad. At a meeting held right after the shooting, La ONU associates - including Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera - told Figueroa-Viera what had happened.

         Appellants' Motion for New Trial And the Judge's Ruling

         Fast-forward to after we affirmed Laureano-Salgado's and Ramírez-Rivera's convictions and sentences. Defense counsel wrote the government, saying that he had heard that ex-La Rompe members Luis Yanyoré-Pizarro and Oscar Calviño-Acevedo testified in proceedings against La Rompe associates that La Rompe had killed Pekeke as part of a power struggle within La Rompe. Convinced that this testimony undercut the theory pushed by prosecutors in Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera's case - i.e., that La ONU had murdered La Rompe-leader Pekeke as part of the La ONU racketeering conspiracy - counsel asked the government to turn over materials "regarding" Yanyoré-Pizarro's and Calviño-Acevedo's allegations. Despite disputing any notion that these allegations exculpated the defendants, the government gave counsel a package containing the documents in its possession.

         Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera then asked the judge for a new trial, claiming that the produced materials constituted newly-discovered evidence showing La Rompe had murdered Pekeke, not La ONU. And their court filings walked the judge through the relevant statements: Yanyoré-Pizarro's grand-jury testimony in May 2015, his interviews with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (usually referred to as "ATF") in January 2016, and his trial testimony in October 2016; plus Calviño-Acevedo's trial testimony in December 2015 - all given in a case against La Rompe members.[6]

         We just hit the highlights, offering only what is needed to help put some of the arguments (discussed later) into perspective.

         During questioning about La Rompe's inner workings before the grand jury, Yanyoré-Pizarro recounted his relationship with La Rompe members "Trenza" and "Papito Mojica." "They were my leaders when they killed [Pekeke]," Yanyoré-Pizarro said. Pekeke "was our leader, so they kept the - so they took over." Yanyoré-Pizarro added that, although they remained with La Rompe, Pekeke's death triggered an internal war for power. "What happened," he said, "was when my leader, [Pekeke], was killed, there were people involved from . . . La Rompe . . . itself because of this very same - for power," and "they ended up dividing up" Pekeke's drug points. After Pekeke's death, Trenza, according to Yanyoré-Pizarro, became "in charge of around fourteen drug points, which is what [Pekeke] left."

         In the interview with the ATF, Yanyoré-Pizarro mentioned some tension between La Rompe leaders in the months before Pekeke's death. For example, Yanyoré-Pizarro discussed how some La Rompe bosses at the La Rompe-controlled housing project in Alturas de Cupey had asked Pekeke "for help" with their drug business (because he had ties to marijuana traffickers on the mainland, apparently). But Pekeke had refused their request. Yanyoré-Pizarro also mentioned a conversation he had had with a La Rompe member named "Endrick." Endrick said that he told a La Rompe member named "Frank" that Pekeke was the "boss" - a statement that caused Frank to slap Endrick's face. Pekeke later told Yanyoré-Pizarro that he told Frank to apologize to Endrick because Endrick was right about who the "boss" was. But Frank just looked at him and left.

         More, Yanyoré-Pizarro disclosed to ATF agents that Joshua was from the Luis Llorén Torres housing project and that Pekeke had supplied "the vehicles and the firearms" used to kill "Shaka," a drug-point leader there. Joshua "used to hang out with Endrick," though Endrick swore Joshua "was not part of the rival gang."

         More still, Yanyoré-Pizarro admitted that although he was not there when Pekeke died, he later spoke to someone named "Pipen" who was. And Pipen fingered Joshua - who lived with his [Joshua's] grandmother in the same housing project as Pekeke - as the killer. Pipen also said that when Pekeke's cousin wanted a piece of the profits from Pekeke's old drug points, Pipen warned him "to stop talking in a threatening manner" or else "something could happen to him like what happened to [Pekeke]."

         Called by the government at a La Rompe trial, Yanyoré-Pizarro testified (in response to questions from the prosecution about how he got involved with La Rompe) that when Pekeke moved to the Los Lirios housing project and became "the head honcho," he (Yanyoré-Pizarro) started running Pekeke's drug points, committing robberies, and killing people.[7] But when Pekeke "was killed," Yanyoré-Pizarro fled from Los Lirios because Pekeke's men thought Yanyoré-Pizarro had flipped and had helped kill Pekeke. Asked to discuss his killing ...


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