Judge allows Angelo Hill to work while drug trafficking trial is pending
Published: September 5, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - A District Court judge decided on Wednesday to let V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill - who was indicted in May on drug trafficking charges in a case involving Roberto Tapia, the Chief of Enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources - work full-time during the pendency of his trial.
Hill's attorney, Robert King, has filed a motion to modify the conditions of his release seeking that Hill be allowed to work at his family's transportation business, Delbert Hill Car & Jeep Rental, on St. John from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
King argued that his client should be allowed to make a living and support his children, as well as "meet his obligations to his legal counsel" while he is facing drug trafficking charges in a case that, because of its complexity, likely will extend past the trial date currently set for Sept. 30.
Since his May 24 arrest, Hill has been on home confinement at his parents' residence on St. John and electronically monitored.
Federal agents believe that Hill met with Tapia the evening of May 17 on St. John and supplied Tapia with 7.72 kilograms of cocaine. Hill played a significant role in the trafficking of at least 58 kilograms of cocaine by the ring led by Tapia from September 2012 to May, according to the federal indictment.
King said that electronic monitoring of Hill would resume after 5 p.m. on work days and that, if it would please the court, a GPS system could be used to track his movements throughout the work day. However, King said, such monitoring probably would not be necessary, as Hill would be supervised at all times by his parents and brother, who also run the business.
During his presentation of the motion to Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller on Wednesday, King reiterated that his client is neither a danger to the community nor a flight risk .
Miller said she had "no problem with the defendant working" but that she was troubled by the idea that he would be allowed to shuttle passengers around St. John as part of his job duties.
She also expressed concern that modifications which would allow Hill to work might violate stipulations that his communications be limited during the pendency of the court proceedings.
Miller said she would grant the request as long as a new set of conditions stipulates that Hill be confined to a single location during work hours and as long as the conditions also specify that he be allowed to travel only to and from work for whatever period of minutes the distance between his home and the business required.
During the same pre-trial conference, Miller heard status updates on motions filed by defense attorneys for five other defendants in the case: Raymond Brown, Edwin Monsanto, Hector Alcenio, Stephen Torres and Eddie Lopez-Lopez.
She did not issue orders in response to any other pending motions as they are matters to be taken up by Chief Judge Curtis Gomez, who will preside over the trial, she said.
A 35-count indictment filed July 11 said that the men were part of a drug trafficking ring that supplied cocaine to a buyer in Puerto Rico. It also charges the men under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly used to prosecute complex, organized criminal activity.
The indictment names DPNR as "the enterprise" in relation to the RICO charges, and states that Tapia is guilty of federal program theft because he used his DPNR-issued boat and vehicle to traffic drugs. Tapia also tried to orchestrate a $40,000 bribe for a DPNR contract for the removal of marine scrap metal and illegally sold two vessel engines belonging to DPNR for personal gain, according to the indictment.
Two fishermen from Puerto Rico, Eddie Lopez-Lopez and Stephen Torres, were arrested May 18 after agents boarded a boat they were on in the open waters near Sail Rock off the coast of St. Thomas. According to the indictment, aerial surveillance and intercepted phone calls led agents to believe that Tapia had met with the men at Sail Rock the afternoon of May 17 and obtained cash he later used to purchase the 7.72 kilograms of cocaine from Hill.
Attorneys for Lopez-Lopez and Torres have filed a joint motion to suppress "cell site information" linking the defendants to the conspiracy. Law enforcement agents did not obtain a warrant for the seizure of cell tower data used to identify the location of the accused traffickers. The United States Attorney's office did issue an order to cellular providers for a "pen register" and "trap and trace" to track Torres "in order to interdict and seize the transportation of narcotics before reaching its intended destination in Puerto Rico," the motion states.
Attorney Joseph DiRuzzo told Miller that the government had taken the position that defendant Torres was "not entitled to" either the subpoenas submitted by prosecutors to telecommunications companies or information collected from the IRS about Torres.
DiRuzzo said information regarding civil information, such as tax records, could not be used to generate a criminal investigation.
United States Attorney Nelson Jones accused DiRuzzo of "going on a fishing expedition" in order to fight the admissibility of state evidence.
Tapia did not appear in court Wednesday.
King and Tapia's public defender, Gabriel Villegas, filed motions to suppress virtually all the evidence against their clients, including video surveillance and recorded telephone calls, alleging that the six Title III wire taps used to build the investigation were obtained without sufficient probable cause.
Attorneys for Monsanto, Brown and Alcenio raised concerns about the discovery process, saying that of 37 CDs and DVDs turned over by prosecutors, at least half were inaccessible because of technical formatting difficulties.
Miller asked Jones to facilitate the attorneys' access to the visual and audio evidence by having an IT professional service them, and Jones agreed.
An attorney for Alcenio, Nizar Dewood, said that he would be filing a motion to sever his client as a defendant in the case, as Alcenio, who is cited in four counts of the indictment, had a minimal role and jurors should not be tasked with deciding his guilt or innocence while sorting out the complexities of the RICO charges against the other defendants.
Dewood also contends that the evidence submitted by prosecutors is indecipherable or non-specific to his client, who is described in court documents as being involved in arranging drug shipments by telephone. None of the evidence specifies which voice, if any, is Alcenio's, Dewood said.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.