Argued: February 13, 2015.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 4:11-cr-40118-JES-JAG-1 -- James E. Shadid, Chief Judge.
For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee: Greggory R. Walters, Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Peoria, IL.
For PEDRO MIGUEL PEREIRA, Defendant - Appellant: Raechel Keay Anglin, Attorney, MORGAN LEWIS & BOCKIUS, Washington, DC.
Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and BAUER and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.
Bauer, Circuit Judge.
Defendant-appellant, Pedro Miguel Pereira (" Pereira" ), was convicted by a jury, after a full trial, of conspiracy with intent to distribute at least 100 kilograms of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. On appeal, he argues that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. Specifically, Pereira contends that the government proved only the existence of a buyer-seller relationship, which was insufficient to prove involvement in a drug-distribution conspiracy. We find that the record contains sufficient evidence from which a rational jury could infer that Pereira conspired to distribute marijuana and we affirm.
On December 8, 2011, an Illinois state trooper pulled over a vehicle driven by David Helsene (" Helsene" ). Although it was December, Helsene was transporting two kayaks on top of his vehicle, which raised the trooper's suspicion. After a K-9 unit detected the presence of narcotics near the top of the vehicle, the trooper searched the kayaks and discovered approximately 145 pounds of marijuana hidden inside. Helsene was arrested and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement by participating in a controlled delivery of the marijuana to an individual in Philadelphia. Additionally, Helsene told authorities that he had received instructions from a man named Kenneth Clarke (" Clarke" ), the source of the marijuana, to travel to New Jersey to collect $50,000 from Pereira. Helsene called Pereira and instructed him to " go where [he] went the last time." With law enforcement agents close behind, Helsene met with Pereira, who handed him a toolbox containing $41,000, and the agents arrested Pereira.
After a months-long investigation, Pereira, Clarke, Helsene and Pereira's brother, Jimmy, were charged with conspiring with each other and with persons known and unknown, to knowingly and intentionally distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least 100 kilograms of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B), and 21 U.S.C. § 846.
At trial, Helsene testified that Pereira bought marijuana from Clarke, a supplier who worked out of California. Since becoming a courier for Clarke in April 2011, Helsene had delivered marijuana to Pereira on at least six occasions before they were both arrested in December 2011. On each of these occasions, Helsene transported large amounts of marijuana, which were stored in kayaks and secured to the top of his vehicle, from California to Pereira's residence in New Jersey. On a least four of these trips, the weight of those loads ranged from 60-100 pounds. Once Helsene arrived at Pereira's residence, he unloaded packages of marijuana from the kayaks, which Pereira then stored in his garage. Clarke was present during five of the deliveries, having met Helsene in New Jersey and accompanied him to Pereira's residence in order to " make sure everything was on the up and up." According to Helsene, Clarke and Pereira would often discuss price terms and the quality of the marijuana during those meetings. However, Pereira never provided payment for a new load to Helsene or Clarke at the time of delivery; rather, if any money was exchanged at all, it was for the prior delivery. Only once did Helsene stay in New Jersey for a few days, waiting for Pereira to drop off a payment for the most recent