Guadalupe Romero-Sanchez was indicted in the United States District Court, Southern District of Florida, Fort Pierce Division, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine in violation of 21 USC 841(a)(1) on June 20, 2002.
The DEA assumed that Romero-Sanchez was closely involved in a methamphetamine transaction set to take place at a Speedway gas station at the corner of 32nd Street and U.S. Highway 98 in Okeechobee, Florida. The investigation at that point had focused on Samuel Rodriguez(Sammy) and a juvenile also known as El Tigre. The government was assisted in its investigation by a confidential source. The government alleged that Romero-Sanchez was the person who provided the drugs, and that he was going to pick up $25,000.00 connected with the methamphetamine deal.
Following his arrest, Sammy made a statement that he was a broker in the transaction, and that the El Tigre was the actual supplier. El Tigre made a post-arrest statement to the effect that he had never been involved in drugs before, and that the drugs came from Sammy.
While Sammys home was being searched, a cell phone rang. The phone was answered by a DEA agent who spoke Spanish. Several minutes after the cell phone call ended, a Nextel direct call came over the same phone. The DEA agent claimed that he could identify the speaker of the first call as being the same person who made the second call. The first call showed up on caller ID as originating from a land-line telephone number.
El Tigre resided at the house to which the land-line number was assigned that appeared on caller ID. Government agents believed, therefore, that the first caller was at El Tigres house at the time the call was made.
The Nextel direct caller did not appear on caller ID. The second call could have come from anywhere. The defense investigation interviewed El Tigres brother and sister. They both stated that Romero-Sanchez was not at their house on June 20, or any other day, to the best of their knowledge.
If Romero-Sanchez had not been at El Tigres house, then he could not have made the first call. The DEA agent said most of the information was exchanged during the first call. The second call lasted only a moment.
Neither the telephone nor the Nextel direct calls were recorded. There was no way to independently confirm the DEA agents voice identification.
After Romero-Sanchez was arrested, he admitted making a brief Nextel call to Sammys cell phone. He denied making the first phone call. Romero-Sanchez said that he had called Sammy via Nextel about a lost phone. Romero-Sanchez said he had lost his phone. The phone was found by someone who recognized the names Lupe and Mayra which appeared on the start screen. Lupe is a nickname for Guadalupe Romero-Sanchez.
The people who found the phone knew that Sammy occasionally worked as a crew chief for Romero Harvesting, a company owned by Romero-Sanchez. Sammy had reportedly paid something to the finders in order to retrieve the phone. Romero-Sanchez said that he went to the convenience store parking lot at the appointed time in order to reimburse Sammy and retrieve the phone. He denied going there to pick up money connected to a drug transaction.
The DEA agent had a different understanding of the Nextel call. The DEA agent believed that the meeting was set up in order for the caller to pick up $25,000.00 paid for 4 pounds of methamphetamine.
Romero-Sanchez appeared at the convenience store parking lot at the appointed time with Isabel Torres. Torres claimed that he had been with Romero-Sanchez all afternoon, and that they had not been in Okeechobee City. Torres asserted that he was present and listening to the Nextel call, and that the discussion concerned the lost cell phone, not the pickup of drug money.
Romero-Sanchez met with the undercover DEA agent at the convenience store. The agent described Romero-Sanchez as nervous. Romero-Sanchez did not deny being nervous, because he had expected to meet Sammy, not the unknown undercover agent. Romero-Sanchez said that he was concerned, because there had been a spate of rip offs of Mexican-Americans.
The undercover agent agreed that Romero-Sanchez offered him $20.00 (not $25,000.00). The money was returned by the agent, because the agent did not have a telephone to exchange. The agent believed that the offering of $20.00, and the claims about a lost cell phone, were just a cover story.
Romero-Sanchez was arrested shortly after leaving the convenience store parking lot.
The core evidence in this case involved the land-line telephone call from El Tigres residence. The defense knew that El Tigres adult brother and sister, who lived in the same house, denied that Romero-Sanchez had ever been there.
Romero-Sanchez was well known in Okeechobee County. He owned the largest harvesting company in the County. He was well-known in the Mexican immigrant and citrus communities. It would be unlikely for him to go unrecognized by members of the Mexican-American community.
As soon as Attorney Garland was retained in this matter, efforts were made to secure records from Nextel Communications. For a limited period of time, records are available which go into far greater detail than simply the phone number of a phone call and the time. The Nextel Communications cell phone records do not record Nextel direct calls. The records record only traditionally dialed numbers.
The records showed that neither the cell phone in Romero-Sanchezs possession, nor Isabel Torres cell phone, were used to make a regular cell phone call to Sammys cell phone.
Nextel records further confirmed that service on Romero-Sanchezs cell phone had been temporarily terminated on June 19, 2002, because the phone had been lost or stolen. Service was restored, according to the Nextel records, on June 20, after Sammy told Romero-Sanchez that the phone had been recovered. The Nextel records verified Romero-Sanchezs lost telephone claim, and actually recorded that service was terminated, because the phone had been lost. This confirmation would have been lost had the Nextel records not been promptly requested.
The 4-pound methamphetamine transaction took place during the afternoon of June 20, on U.S. 98 North in Okeechobee City. Independent witnesses established that Romero-Sanchez and Isabel Torres were at Davids Machine Shop in Fort Pierce around lunch time. Romero-Sanchez picked up a grove goat (a type of equipment used to load citrus) which had been repaired. Isabel Torres drove the goat back to Okeechobee where the goat was stored at the Romero Harvesting yard. Romero-Sanchez followed the goat to Okeechobee.
In route, Romero-Sanchez and Torres stopped at 4-5 P.M. to pick up scraps at Sun-Minton, Inc. Business records and independent witnesses established this fact. Romero-Sanchez and Torres returned to Okeechobee via Highway 68.
While returning on Highway 68, Romero-Sanchez and Torres stopped to pick up a portable latrine which was used by grove workers. The portable latrine was picked up in a grove just off Highway 68 some 25 miles from Okeechobee City.
The combination of independent alibi witnesses establishing that Romero-Sanchez was in Fort Pierce during the afternoon of June 20, the alibi testimony of Isabel Torres, the confirmatory cell phone records showing Romero-Sanchezs presence in Fort Pierce (not anywhere near Okeechobee), and Nextel records confirming that the phone had been reported lost, substantially contradicted the governments theory of prosecution. Since this evidence contradicted the governments theory that Romero-Sanchez called from El Tigres home, the government elected to dismiss the indictment. U.S. District Court Judge Donald N. Middlebrooks signed the order for dismissal on October 15, 2002.