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United States v. Vallodolid

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

April 16, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DARRICK VALLODOLID, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, JUDGE

         In this racketeering prosecution, Darrick Vallodolid was convicted at trial for his participation in the Latin Kings street gang. His participation in the gang included the murder of a 16 year old boy who was riding through the neighborhood on his bike when Vallodolid shot and killed him thinking he was a rival gangster. Vallodolid now seeks a judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, a new trial. [DE 1914]. No. less then eight fellow Latin Kings testified at trial that Vallodolid was the local leader of the gang. The evidence against Vallodolid was plainly sufficient for a jury to determine he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There was no miscarriage of justice, and neither an acquittal nor a new trial is warranted.

         Factual Background

         An eleven day jury trial was held before me in May 2018 against Vallodolid and his co-defendant, Robert Nieto. Vallodolid was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), and in answer to a special interrogatory, the jury unanimously found Vallodolid committed the murder of Victor Lusinski while committing or attempting to commit criminal gang activity and he conspired to distribute or possess with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine. [DE 1590.] Vallodolid was also found guilty of a drug conspiracy in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, and the jury found the offense involved the distribution of 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. [Id.]

         The evidence at trial showed that Vallodolid was a member of the Latin Kings, a Chicago-based street gang, with local sets or “hoods” in Hammond, Gary, and East Chicago. [Tr. 372-75, 458-59, 497, 543, 1025, 1053-54.] The Latin Kings are a highly organized street gang with a written manifesto, a distinct hierarchy and established rules. The evidence established that members of the Latin Kings committed acts of violence including murders, shootings, arsons, beatings to protect their territory, and they were involved in an extensive drug trade. [Tr. 375-76, 450, 482, 511, 1040-41, 1053, 1065-66, 1092-93, 1143-46, 1159, 1440, 2109, 2276.] The Kings had a common gang sign (a five-point crown) and a unique handshake that they called “shaking up the crown.” [Tr. 391-92, 437-39, 476-79, 1033-34, 1092, 1376-77, 1393.] They showed disrespect to rival gang members by intentionally making that gang's sign upside down (known as “throwing down” the rival's sign). [Tr. 440-41.] The Latin Kings were required to pay dues which went to purchase drugs for resale, firearms, ammunition, and pay attorney fees and bond money for incarcerated members. [Tr. 491, 1345, 1418, 1673.]

         Vallodolid rose in the ranks to the position of the Inca, which was the leader of the local King set. [Tr. 463-69, 498, 501-03, 1040-41, 2260, 2269.] Eight Kings testified against Vallodolid at trial, identifying him as an Inca of the Hammond 148th Street set of the Kings, and testifying that they saw him sell drugs, carry guns, post up and patrol his territory, collect and deliver gang dues, order and participate in beatings for rule violations and initiations into the gang, give orders for others to commit acts of violence, shoot at a house and a car, and shake up the crown. [Tr. 531-35, 858-66, 1170-88, 1254-64, 1357-74, 1378-84, 1684-86, 1689-90, 1693, 1757, 1762-66, 2251-52, 2269, 2271-83, 2288-93.] There was also evidence that Vallodolid shot and killed 16 year old Victor Lusinski believing him to be a rival gang member. [Tr. 892-97, 894-95, 921-22, 927-28, 1387-88, 1390-95, 1557, 1568-70, 1769-72.] The jury found in its answers to a special verdict form that the murder of Lusinski was done both with the intent to benefit the Latin Kings and to increase Vallodolid's standing in the Kings. [DE 1948 at 51-52; DE 1590].

         Discussion

         Rule 29 Motion

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c) provides that a defendant may renew a motion for judgment of acquittal after a guilty verdict, and “the court may set aside the verdict and enter an acquittal.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(c)(1), (2). Thus, Vallodolid may renew his motion even though this Court already denied a previous motion (made during trial at the end of the Government's case). [DE 1579.]

         In ruling on a motion for acquittal, the Court must determine whether, at the time of the motion, there is relevant evidence from which a jury could reasonably find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government. See United States v. Studley, 892 F.2d 518, 526 (7th Cir. 1989); see also United States v. Howard, 619 F.3d 723, 726 (7th Cir. 2010). The Court must bear in mind that “it is the exclusive function of the jury to determine the credibility of witnesses, resolve evidentiary conflicts and draw reasonable inferences.” United States v. Hagan, 913 F.2d 1278, 1281 (7th Cir. 1990) (quotation omitted). The inference of guilt of a criminal offense may be created by either direct or circumstantial evidence, and circumstantial evidence is of equal probative value to direct evidence. Studley, 892 F.2d at 526. All reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the evidence are viewed in the light most favorable to the Government. Id.

         Under Rule 29, a defendant like Vallodolid faces “a nearly insurmountable hurdle” since this Court will “defer to the credibility determination of the jury and overturn a verdict only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Torres-Chavez, 744 F.3d 988, 993 (7th Cir. 2014); see also United States v. Blanchard, 542 F.3d 1133, 1154 (7th Cir. 2008) (courts defer to the jury's credibility determinations).

         Vallodolid first argues that the Government failed to prove he was part of an enterprise. For the Government to prove Vallodolid guilty in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), it had to establish: (1) Vallodolid knowingly conspired to conduct or participate in the conduct of the affairs of the Latin Kings, an enterprise, through a pattern of racketeering activity, as described in the superseding indictment; (2) the Latin Kings were an enterprise; and (3) the activities of the enterprise affected interstate commerce. See United States v. Olson, 450 F.3d 655, 664, 668-69 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Vallodolid argues that the testimony merely established “the group of people Vallodolid associated with were no more than acquaintances who occasionally acted together.” [DE 1914 at 2.] This argument is way off base. An enterprise includes any association or group of individuals associated in fact. 18 U.S.C. § 1961(4). The existence of an enterprise “is proved by evidence of an ongoing organization, formal or informal, and by evidence that the various associates function as a continuing unit.” United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576, 583 (1981). While the central element of an enterprise is structure, the Seventh Circuit has held that with informal organizations such as criminal groups, there “must be some structure, to distinguish an enterprise from a mere conspiracy, but there need not be much.” United States v. Rogers, 89 F.3d 1326, 1337 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting United States v. Korando, 29 F.3d 1114, 1117 (7th Cir. 1994)). Indeed, the Latin Kings have been found by many courts to constitute an enterprise. See, e.g., United States v. Amaya, 828 F.3d 518 (7th Cir. 2016); Olson, 450 F.3d 655; United States v. Tello, 687 F.3d 785 (7th Cir. 2012); United States v. Guzman, No. 08 CR 746-11, 2011 WL 4702186 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 2011) (denying motions under Rule 29 and Rule 33).

         In this case, the jury heard ample evidence that the Latin Kings were a group of people associated together for a common purpose - they were a hierarchy organized by a set of rules and a written Manifesto, they paid dues and had set practices regarding initiation, attending meetings, and engaging in violence in the name of the gang, and they acted together to sell drugs and hold down their territory. Multiple witnesses testified about the structure of the Latin Kings, the hierarchy, and the fact that Vallodolid worked his way up to become a leader, and was the Inca for a number of years. The evidence showed that the Latin Kings shared money, drugs, and the power associated with being ...


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