Thursday, 06 July 2017 08:34

Government outlines opposition to new Tillmon trial

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The government has filed a response opposing a new trial for Operation Rockfish defendant Antonio Tillmon.

Tillmon was the only person in the police corruption case to enter a not guilty plea.

The remaining defendants were sentenced over a course of two days in Greenville last month.

“On three separate occasions from August 2014 to March 2015, the defendant Antonio Tillmon willingly participated in transporting what he believed to be kilogram quantities of heroin from North Carolina to Maryland in exchange for receiving $2,000 to $2,500 per trip,” United States North Carolina Eastern District Attorney John Stuart Bruce wrote in the response in opposition. “Unbeknownst to the defendant, the purported drug trafficking organization for which he was working was in fact an undercover operation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and all interactions that the defendant had with the undercover agents were recorded. After the jury saw and heard the abundant evidence of Tillmon’s participation in the drug trafficking organization, it returned a verdict of guilty on all counts that remained in the indictment against this defendant.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence of his guilt that was presented at trial, the defendant now moves this court for a new trial.”

Tillmon’s contentions

Brice argues Tillmon believes he is entitled to a new trial because he disagrees with the court’s decision to allow the introduction of a video recording in which he received his final bribe payment and advised an undercover agent posing as a drug trafficker on which type of firearm to obtain.

He also believes the evidence weighs heavily against the verdict, in particular the convictions for the October 22, 2014 charges.

Wrote Brice: “The defendant’s motion for a new trial should be denied because the weight of the evidence is in favor of the verdict in this case. The evidence at trial was properly admitted, and the overwhelming evidence presented at trial proved the defendant’s guilt.”The March 26, 2015 video, Brice argued, constituted direct evidence of the bribe payment as well as res gestae — start to finish — of the offense and was properly admitted.“

At trial, the government presented audio and video evidence of each time that the defendant went to the warehouse where he observed the loading of the purported narcotics into vehicles. “The government also presented audio and video evidence of the defendant’s interactions with the undercover agents, Kei and Tee, when they paid him in Maryland.”

The payment videos were admitted without objection by the defendant, Brice wrote. “When the government sought to introduce the payment video from the March 26, 2015 operation through the testimony of undercover agent Kei, the defendant objected to its introduction as being improperly authenticated because Kei was not present in the Corvette with the defendant and undercover agent Tee when the payment was made.”

Just as the payment videos for the operations on August 20, 2014, were properly admitted without objection by Tillmon as direct evidence of the payments made to the defendant, the payment video from the March 26, 2015 operation constituted direct evidence of the crime charged, the response says.

“The defendant was charged with aiding and abetting the attempted distribution of heroin. He was also charged with accepting bribe payments intending to be influenced in connection with the drug distribution,” Brice wrote.

Accepting payments

A government exhibit shows Tillmon being paid by the members of the drug trafficking operation for the work he performed.

“It is direct evidence of an integral part of the case.The video evidence also provided permissible context for the crimes at issue.” 

Brice wrote, “The statements made during the video provide the necessary context for understanding the crime. The statements were linked inextricably to the other parts of the crime. The conversation caught on the payment video happened at the same time as the crime itself — immediately after the defendant escorted the purported heroin to Maryland and at the same time that he was receiving a bribe payment for transporting the purported heroin. 

“The conversation was also linked to the charged crimes because it involved the exact same participants, the defendant and undercover agent Tee. Tee was the same person who paid the defendant for the prior drug trafficking runs and who paid him that day for the March 26 drug trafficking run. Thus, the conversation between the defendant and Tee to which the defendant objects provided a permissible context for the crime that ‘completes the story’ …”

Tillmon presented a defense in the case that rested upon his assertion he didn’t know he was working with drug traffickers. “The defendant testified on direct examination that, in all the conversations that he had with the undercover agents, he either did not hear, or misheard, all of the incriminating statements that the undercover agents spoke to him. “For example, the defendant denied hearing that undercover agent Lisa told him the organization was moving ‘H’ as in heroin. He stated that he heard her say ‘8’ instead of ‘H.’ The defendant even denied hearing undercover agent Lisa say that the group was transporting ‘a million dollars worth of heroin,’ despite standing in the group while this statement was made,” Brice said.

No unfair prejudice

Brice contends the admission of the video caused no unfair prejudice.

“The defendant argues that the defendant’s statements in the video were unfairly prejudicial because it portrayed him as complicit in the potential future murders that Tee was planning. The video was not unfairly prejudicial. 

“The jury repeatedly heard evidence that Tee was an undercover law enforcement agent playing a role of a drug dealer … There was no risk of confusing or prejudicing the jury into believing that Tee was attempting to obtain a gun to commit murder in real life. The conversation in the video merely showed that the defendant was on notice that he was dealing with drug traffickers and continued to work for them willingly.”

Brice argues the guilty verdicts were supported by the weight of the evidence presented at trial.“The evidence presented at trial proved that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily transported what he believed to be heroin on behalf of the undercover drug trafficking organization. 

“The undercover agents met with the defendant on August 19, 2014 at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant. During that meeting, the agents told the participants an overview that would happen the following day and the cover story to be used to avoid detection from legitimate law enforcement. The agents also informed the participants of why they were recruiting law enforcement to carry out the run. 

"The next day, the defendant witnessed that the product had been hidden in a cooler. He himself helped carry the cooler through the warehouse to the vehicle in which it would be hidden. He felt the weight of the cooler while it contained the purported heroin. Undercover agent Lisa told him directly that the operation was moving ‘H.’ The defendant watched as the kilogram packages were taken out of the cooler one at a time and hidden underneath a car. The defendant then escorted the purported drugs to Maryland where he was paid $2,000 for a few hours of work.”

Acquittal of Count 28

The court granted a judgment of acquittal for Count 28 dealing with the possession with intent to distribute heroin on August 20, 2014.

While the court’s decision was based on undercover Lisa’s misstatement about which drug was transported on August 20, Brice wrote, “No such misstatement was made about the subsequent operation that occurred on October 22, 2014.

”On that date, Brice said, Tillmon saw a similar arrangement at the warehouse. “He once again witnessed the purported heroin hidden in the underside of a vehicle. He then drove that vehicle to Maryland where he was once again paid $2,000. All of the government’s law enforcement witnesses testified — without any misstatements — that the October 20 operation involved heroin.”

On March 26, 2015, Tillmon returned for a third drug run. He was present when undercover agent Lisa told the group they were moving a million dollars worth of heroin.

He loaned one of his extra guns to a codefendant so the codefendant would not be disqualified from participating in the drug trafficking. “He once again escorted the purported drugs to Maryland where he was paid $2,500. The weight of this evidence, captured on audio and video recordings and testified to by experienced FBI agents, is more than sufficient to support the jury’s findings of guilt. The defendant’s motion for a new trial should be denied.”



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