What I Did on Jury Duty

The trial I'd been on Dec. 8, 1994 - Jan 23, 1995

(written Jan 24 1995)

Now that I'm off of Jury Duty, I can safely and without any distortion of justice report on the events of the trial itself and answer many a nagging question. I can't say what the verdict is... it may not even be in yet! I was alternate #4 ( of an original 8.. eventually 5 alternates) and three alternates were retained in case something happens during deliberation.

The basic case in a nutshell:

This case concerns the Caliche drug organization - a Queens based group of Columbian cocaine traffickers. During the investigation (conducted by the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force), about 32 cellular phones and beepers were monitored via court-warranted wiretaps. Just under 300 Kg of cocaine was seized in three separate seizures, and nearly $3 million in cash was similarly intercepted by the NYDETF.

The Organization was run locally by Carlos Torres, aka Caliche "the guy from Cali". The daily operations included accepting money from lower level coke dealers, arranging for the transport of coke from various suppliers, bringing money to various laundry operations, yapping on cell phones, driving around with duffel bags of cash in the trunk. Money was kept in "banks," which were ordinary houses staffed with people pretending to be normal American families. Drugs were stashed in "Hernias," which were along the same lines. The various Banks and Hernias were kept ignorant of each other's locations and the all personnel were referred to by nickname only.

Simple codes were used during the operations of the business - for example, many words were made up almost like a Spanish version of Pig-Latin - "Coban" meant Banco, or bank, "Tebille" meant "Billette" or cash, "Tabogo" was Bogota... also some words were simple substitutions: if someone was "sick", that meant they had been spotted by the police, various numbers needed to be multiplied by several thousand to arrive at the real amounts, depending heavily on context. "Five pesos" was generally five hundred dollars, while "One Peso" was generally a million. Some more peculiar shorthand was "Rock and roll" (in English) for car, if they had a "Colibri", that was a tail, and handcuffs were referred to as "engagement rings" in a few cases. Another code was used between the drug lords in Columbia and Caliche to talk about phone numbers - the word "CONTEMPLAR" was used to correlate the first letter of a name with a number, e.g. "Tomas, Carlos, Olivier" would be "T,O,C" or 420. On top of this, each worker had a code number to identify himself when beeping Caliche or each other to have them call back. There were a few other beeper codes, like "51", meaning "A Successful round" or transfer of cash or drugs, while "911" meant an urgent message.

Caliche had a day-to-day Operations Manager, Jesus Giraldo, aka Mogoya aka Ephrain Gonzalez aka Julian who rented and changed the cell phones and beepers, bought and registered the cars, and paid the insurance on them, rented houses, paid for cable TV and magazine subscriptions ("Get TV Guide - the Bible of American Culture," said one of the bosses in Bogota). He also took some accounting records.

The man who looked after the money end of the business was Fernando Landono, aka Raymundo (this was disputed in his defense, but I think adequately proved). Raymundo set up the money transfers and accompanied them as a lookout generally.

The corresponding job on the drug side was his brother Jorge Landano, aka Zurdo (also disputed by his defense).

Other workers, who like Caliche plead guilty or blew town, were Tavo, William (Caliche's Chauffeur and gofer), Yoli and Eida (two bank women), Amparo (another bank woman), Grillo, Gordo and JJ. There was a loose network of temporary workers and relations used for short lookout or transfer jobs. And there was Blas Cadavid, aka 007 aka El Negro, who was the organization's hit man. He's a fugitive, folks.

Of the above, Raymundo, Zurdo and Mogoya were the ones on trial.The charges were for Drug Conspiracy (all three) , possession and sale of a controlled substance (Zurdo) , and Kidnapping with intent to do bodily harm, torture, terrorizing and /or other felonies eg. murder (Mogoya). These charges were given in various degrees as fallbacks, ie. if 1st degree kidnapping didn't stick, you could find Mogoya guilty of second degree kidnapping (I think that's what he'll get).

Caliche and his organization conducted most of their business with beepers and cellular phones. These phones were generally tapped and logged in a "plant" at the task force headquarters. During the trial, about five inches of transcripts (translated into English) were entered as evidence (and read aloud by various witnesses). This work - six months of translations and voice identification - was done by Sylvia Garcia, an aspiring NYU film student originally from Peru. In spite of the blustery, stuttery nature of the untutored speech of the tapped conversationalists, along with their natural reticence toward out-and-out candidness as to the true meaning of their conversations, as well as a liberal sprinkling of code words and topping that off with less than stellar performances during the hours of readings by various police officers (for the most part), these transcripts formed a good 40% of the conceptual bulk of the evidence. The rest was given as physical evidence or testimony as to surveillance and other police operations and testimony from three drug informants.

I was hoping to see a mountain of "snow" carried in in a wheelbarrow, but it turns out that in any seizure of over ten kilos, all but ten are destroyed (heh) and of those ten, samples are taken and analyzed for purity and other scientific tests. They are warehoused in the special Narcotics Vault at the DTF Headquarters. The money seized is counted by Brinks' and recycled into some government operation or other. The agents also drive around in vehicles seized in various drug busts, for surveillance purposes. Nevertheless, 27 Kilos were on display. The price of a kilo at the time was between $24,000 - $27,000 (I think that's wholesale), so that was about $500,000 - $729,000 worth just in court. Thus stuff was tested 80-90% pure. Actually, it might have been purer than that. So, no wheelbarrow, but they nice little "Mah Jongg" wall out of the seized kilos at the final summing up. They also had four big boards with all the photos in evidence which kept falling off.

So, on to the various incidents logged by the police in this investigation. Mind you, I'm doing this without notes. All these events took place between January 4, 1993 and May 7, 1993.

Of course, the jury could not discuss these things as they were being presented over the weeks.There was a little "bonding", but this jury was less youthful than some of my other juries. A couple of people had more personality than others and they're probably bullying some of the quieter ones as I write. We got these cool passes that let us in without going through the metal detector. There's a court officer named Fred who is bald and thinks he's in Vaudeville or something. Some people appreciate the schticky humor, but it's pretty wearing.

It was pretty clear that with all the precautions the organization took, they mad a big mistake to trust their Boy Scout-style codes and assume the phones and beepers weren't tapped - even though they changed them every few weeks or after an incident. Mogoya, although seriously charged, was a pretty sympathetic character since he was clearly doing the most mind numbing detail work in the organization. The defense contended that Raymundo was not Fernando Landano but someone else, and Fernando was doing him a favor that day outside the restaurant in Queens, and all the other incidents had niggly inconsistencies. Similarly, Jorge's defense was that he was not Zurdo - and since he was not seen often or for long in this case, he might get off on that - except for the voice evidence. without hearing the real tapes, it's hard to make a judgement on that, but the tapes are not evidence which can be released to the jury, except for the ones Zurdo speaks in English. The jury has nothing to compare them to, though - I think the "pedigree" tapes with voice examples are not allowed to be heard either.

There was a big delay one morning that I think had to do with the playing of the tape that the kidnappers made with JJ. Obviously, the prosecution would have liked to play the whole thing, and the defense, nothing. It turned out that there was a tiny bit of English at the end - as the police broke down the door, so that was played to the jury. Technically, these tapes are played through an infra-red broadcasting device like those used in theaters. The same system was used by a simultaneous interpreter translating for the defendants. The headsets are real comfy!. However, the staff were somewhat technically inept. There were numerous miscues and other problems (like cross talk between the two systems). There was also a short videotape shown of Lyle Sawicky and his drivers which was pretty baffling because of the camera placement and lousy audio due to a blaring TV set. The tape, again, was not cued up and that was a bit embarrassing. On the other hand, some maps of Queens would have been really useful, especially describing which directions various cars were coming from during surveillances, which were gone over and over by the defense hoping to trip up some cop in some inconsistency. Another point that was given (undue?) emphasis concerned the destruction of police notes used in making various reports - it's not illegal or necessary to keep them, since their information is edited down into the reports - reports which themselves are not in evidence - but there is this lawyer thing about primary sources.

Jan 28, 1995

Anyway, one of the jurors called me today and told me the scoop - they were sequestered till Thursday and then they called a mistrial because the voting was 11 to 1... there was one stick in the mud juror who refused to believe anything of the prosecution's case. Mogoya would have gotten off the kidnapping charge though. At the mistrial proceeding (?) Zurdo plead guilty, so only Raymundo is going to get a fresh new trial. Perhaps a leaner, cleaner version of the already heard evidence. My friend the juror was naturally unpleased. Ditto the three alternates that were kept in reserve.

That's Law Biz!

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Henry Lowengard, jhhl-at-panix.com /324 Wall St. Apt 5 / Kingston NY 12401/

© 1999 Henry Lowengard