United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Andrew S. Dunne and Thomas M. Hollenhorst, United States Attorney's Office, on behalf of Plaintiff-Respondent
Jose Alfredo Varela-Meraz, Reg. No. 63321-051, Federal Correctional Institution, Pro Se Defendant-Petitioner
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.
This matter is before the undersigned United States District Judge on Defendant-Petitioner Jose Alfredo Varela-Meraz's pro se motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for an order of this Court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence [Doc. No. 70] and for an evidentiary hearing to resolve factual matters in the record [Doc. No. 75]. The Government opposes Petitioner-Defendant's motions. (Govt.'s Opp'n Mem. [Doc. No. 76].) Defendant-Petitioner also filed a reply memorandum to the Government's response to his motions. (Def.-Pet'r's Reply [Doc. No. 79].) Based on a review of the file, record and proceedings therein, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant-Petitioner's motions.
In March 2013, Defendant-Petitioner was charged in a five-count indictment on drug possession and conspiracy charges, gun possession charges, and unlawful entry. (Indictment [Doc. No. 11].) At that time, attorney Robert D. Richman was Defendant-Petitioner's court-appointed counsel. (CJA 20 Appointment [Doc. No. 9].) Defendant-Petitioner contends that a conflict arose when Richman filed pretrial motions, allegedly against Defendant-Petitioner's request that no motions be filed. (Def.-Pet'r's Mem. Supp. § 2255 Mot. at 7 [Doc. No. 71].) Instead, Defendant-Petitioner asserts that he simply wanted to plead guilty and "get the best deal possible with the Government." (Id.) In May 2013, Richman withdrew from representation when Defendant-Petitioner retained attorney Ignatius Udeani. (Notice of Substitution [Doc. No. 37].)
Pursuant to a plea agreement, on July 29, 2013, Defendant-Petitioner pleaded guilty to two counts in the Indictment the counts alleging drug conspiracy and the use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. (See Doc. Nos. 45 & 46.) On November 7, 2013, Defendant-Petitioner appeared for sentencing, but argued that Udeani had not provided him with the discovery in his case. (Mot. to Withdraw ¶ 25 [Doc. No. 56].) The Court continued the sentencing date to February 7, 2014, and ordered that Udeani provide discovery to Defendant-Petitioner. (Id. ¶ 26.) Udeani provided the discovery and met with Defendant-Petitioner. (Id. ¶ 29.) At one of their meetings, Udeani contends that Defendant-Petitioner expressed his desire to withdraw his plea in order to leverage a better offer of a reduced sentence from the Government. (Id. ¶ 36.) Udeani repeatedly advised that this proposed course of action was improper and unwise and instead recommended that Defendant-Petitioner accept responsibility and demonstrate remorse for the charged offenses. (Id. ¶ 39.)
In December 2013, Defendant-Petitioner filed several letters with the Court, expressing his general dissatisfaction with counsel for failing to provide discovery and a copy of the presentence investigation report and asked the Court to appoint substitute counsel. (Letters [Doc. Nos. 52, 53, 54, 55].) After Udeani filed a motion to withdraw as counsel on January 10, 2014 [Doc. No. 56], the Court held a status conference [Doc. No. 58]. Shortly thereafter, the Court reappointed attorney Richman to serve as Defendant-Petitioner's attorney [Doc. Nos. 59 & 60].
On May 21, 2014, the Court sentenced Defendant-Petitioner to a term of imprisonment of 248 months, which included 188 months on Count 1 and 60 months on Count 3, to run consecutively. (Judgment [Doc. No. 68].) The Government dismissed the remaining counts in the Indictment. (Id.) Defendant-Petitioner did not appeal his sentence. On March 12, 2015, he timely filed the instant motion, arguing that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because Mr. Udeani failed "to serve as a meaningful advocate during his attempted cooperation." (Def.-Pet'r's § 2255 Mot. at ¶ 12, Ground 1 [Doc. No. 70].) In his § 2255 motion and in a separate motion, Defendant-Petitioner seeks an evidentiary hearing as well as discovery "to resolve factual matters in and out of the record." ( Id., Ground 2; Def.-Pet'r's Mot. for Evid. Hr'g. [Doc. No. 75].)
In Defendant-Petitioner's memorandum submitted in support of his § 2255 motion, Defendant-Petitioner contends that he repeatedly told Udeani that he did not want to proceed to trial, but instead wished to cooperate with the Government. (Def.-Pet'r's Mem. Supp. § 2255 Mot. at 8 [Doc. No. 71].) Specifically, he asserts that he told Udeani that he would fully cooperate, "but ONLY with the condition of being fully PROTECTED by the Federal Government." (Id. at 8-9) (emphasis in original). Defendant-Petitioner contends that when he asked Udeani if it was true that the Government protects cooperating defendants, Udeani replied, "Not really, this people [sic] don't really protect people like you hear them say they do. Just look at the movies?" (Id. at 7.)
In addition, Defendant-Petitioner asserts that he also wanted Udeani to obtain discovery
because he wanted to see whether the Federal Agents had all the information of the Drug Organization that he was working for, based on the fact that the was interested in FULLY COOPERATING with the Agents by providing them ALL the Names, Drug Warehouses, Drug Couriers, and the Vehicles that were used all the way from Arizona to Minnesota; to include the entirety of the Names and locations of the persons to whom the Drugs were being delivered across Minnesota.
(Id. at 8.) When Udeani subsequently met with Defendant-Petitioner, Defendant-Petitioner contends that he again asked whether the Government would offer protection to a cooperating witness. (Id. at 9.) Defendant-Petitioner alleges that when Udeani ignored the question, Defendant-Petitioner stopped asking him questions, "based on the fact that he suspected that [Udeani] might not want to help him in cooperating, since he had been recommended and paid by members of the Drug Organization, who had thereafter send [sic] Movant's family members to talk to him." (Id.)
Defendant-Petitioner thus contends that his counsel was ineffective in plea negotiations for failing to communicate Defendant-Petitioner's willingness to cooperate. (Id.) Defendant-Petitioner contends that Udeani thus deprived him of the ...