Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011...11:54 pm

Packing More than a Punch: Feds Seize 500 lbs of Cocaine from Boxer’s Home

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 By Nathan Yu

Unknown to the average sports fan, Iván Calderón, a Puerto Rican professional boxer, is an accomplished individual. Inside the ring, Calderón has tallied 35 victories against only 2 defeats. He has held and defended championship titles, and he has represented Puerto Rico in international boxing contests. Outside the ring, Calderón is known for his involvement in several youth charities, as well as his massive real estate investments. This week, one of his investments has drawn the attention of the federal government.

This past Tuesday, Federal agents seized nearly 500 pounds of cocaine from a house owned by Calderón in Humacao, a city on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. The 225 kilograms of cocaine is worth over $4 million.

This news has not received much press coverage from sports outlets for two reasons. First and foremost, no charges have been filed against Calderón, who is the only sports figure mentioned in the story. Second, even if charges will be filed, Calderón is probably not high enough on the boxing totem pole to warrant headlines from a major sports network. Regardless, the case caught my attention specifically because of its rudimentary nature.

I am most interested to see if prosecutors go after Calderón, and if they do, for what charges. After the raid, Calderón issued a press statement denying any *knowledge* of the drugs. Calderón said the house was just another investment of his and that he was *not aware* of any illegal activities there. The words/phrases “knowledge” and “not aware” are critical.

In my first-year criminal law course, we just finished covering the issue of group criminality. For the sake of discussion, let us give Calderón the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had no knowledge or awareness of the illegal activities in the house. What are the prosecutorial options from there?

The lack of knowledge or awareness is disastrous to the mens rea component of any group criminality charge. To prosecute Calderón as an accomplice or a conspirator to drug trafficking, prosecutors would have to prove that Calderón 1) intended to assist the drug traffickers and 2) intended for the drug trafficking to succeed. Without knowledge or awareness of the drugs, it would be difficult for prosecutors to prove either of the two mens rea requirements for accomplice liability. At this point, analysis of the actus reus component is trivial.

But the lack of knowledge or awareness does not necessarily mean the Feds are out of options. This situation reminds me of cases involving the willful blindness doctrine or an ostrich instruction. This doctrine is designed for cases in which there is evidence that the defendant, knowing or strongly suspecting that he is involved in shady dealings, takes steps to make sure that he does not acquire full or exact knowledge of the nature and extent of those dealings. To clarify, this does not mean the defendant simply lacked curiosity, but rather it means he actively avoided the truth.

The case United States v. Giovannetti offers a decent comparison to this situation. In Giovannetti, the defendant rented a house to some gamblers, who then used the house to run an illegal gambling ring. The facts stated that the defendant made no inquiries about their intended use of the house. The court held that the defendant did NOT display willful blindness; the court relied on the sharp distinction between lack of curiosity and active avoidance. In this case, the rented house was a short way down a side street from the route which the defendant used to commute to work. The defendant could have driven by the house from time to time to see the activities of the lessees, but he did not.

I am not exactly sure of the possible interplay between willful blindness and group criminality that I have toyed with in this analysis. Accomplice and conspirator liability have very high standards of mens rea (intent), and the willful blindness doctrine addresses the concept of knowledge, which is a lower level of mens rea. Based on that understanding, it is tough for me to see a charge given these facts. Assuming what Calderón said in his statement is true, he probably does not have the requisite level of mens rea even with a willful blindness instruction.

Looking at Calderón’s case, how the Feds proceed will really depend on what an investigation uncovers. Some important questions–to identify a few–will be whether Calderón had prior relationships with the lessees and the extent of those relationships; how often, if ever, Calderón visited the house; whether Calderón conducted background checks on the lessees prior to renting and what the checks revealed. The answers to these questions will help establish whether Calderón knew, or at least had awareness of the high probability of the existence, of drug trafficking. If the feds discover facts that are contrary to Calderón’s statement–in other words, facts that demonstrate knowledge, awareness of probability, etc.–then it is a whole different ball game.

Nathan Yu is a regular contributor to the SELS blog. He can be reached at nyu@email.wm.edu.

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