United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina
CORVAIN T. COOPER, Petitioner,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.
J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's
Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence under 28
U.S.C. § 2255, (Doc. No. 1). Also pending are the
following motions: the Government's Motion to Dismiss,
(Doc. No. 6), the Government's Motion to Amend/Correct
Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. No. 8), and Petitioner's Motion
to Supplement Motion to Vacate, (Doc. No. 9). Petitioner is
represented by Patrick Michael Megaro.
2004 through 2013, Petitioner Corvain T. Cooper participated
in a drug conspiracy that distributed marijuana from
California to co-conspirators on the East Coast, including
those in North Carolina. See (Crim. Case No.
3:11-cr-337-RJC-DSC-12, Doc. No. 400 at 171-74: Trial Tr.).
Petitioner worked with others to obtain marijuana in
California and then to package and ship it to co-conspirators
on the East Coast. (Id.). The East Coast
co-conspirators distributed the marijuana and returned the
proceeds to Petitioner and his co-conspirators in California.
Petitioner used FedEx, UPS, and other private shippers to
transport thousands of pounds of marijuana. (Id. at
deposited proceeds into bank accounts in the names of several
individuals, including Natalia Wade and Evelyn LaChapelle,
and in amounts below $10, 000. (Id. at 175; 264-65;
Doc. No. 401 at 27-30). Petitioner enlisted assistance from
others to withdraw the marijuana proceeds from banks in
California, also in amounts below $10, 000. (Id.,
Doc. No. 400 at 135-36; 214-16). The marijuana distribution
operation generated millions of dollars. (Id. at
result of these activities, Petitioner was charged in a third
superseding indictment with conspiracy to distribute and to
possess with intent to distribute 1, 000 kilograms or more of
marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§
841(b)(1)(A), 846 (Count One); money laundering, in violation
of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (Count Two); and structuring and
aiding and abetting the structuring of financial transactions
to avoid reporting requirements, in violation of 31 U.S.C.
§ 5324(a)(3), (d)(1), (d)(2); 18 U.S.C. § 2, and 31
C.F.R. §§ 103.11, 103.22 (Count Four).
(Id., Doc. No. 288: Third Superseding Indictment).
The Government filed an Information pursuant to 21 U.S.C.
§ 851, identifying Petitioner's two prior California
felony drug convictions: a July 2011 conviction for
selling/furnishing marijuana and hashish, and an August 2011
conviction for possession of a controlled substance
(codeine). (Id., Doc. No. 419 at ¶ 52: PSR).
Petitioner was sentenced to two years of imprisonment for
each conviction. See (Id. at ¶¶
was tried with two of his co-conspirators, LaChapelle and
Wade. A number of witnesses, including co-conspirators Leamon
Moseley, Darrick Johnson, and Daniel Crockett, testified that
they personally worked with or observed Petitioner when
Petitioner obtained marijuana in California, prepared it for
shipment, and shipped it to the East Coast. Johnson testified
that Petitioner procured marijuana from a Mexican source at
Johnson's direction, and Moseley testified that he
accompanied Petitioner when Petitioner procured marijuana
from his source. (Id., Doc. No. 400 at 129-30, 181).
Johnson and Moseley both testified that Petitioner packaged
the marijuana for transport. (Id. at 127, 182).
Johnson testified that Petitioner shipped marijuana at his
direction, and Moseley testified that he helped Petitioner
with shipping. (Id. at 127, 181-82). Crockett
testified that he and Petitioner both obtained marijuana,
obtained money or packaging materials, and prepared and
shipped marijuana. (Id. at 199-201). Crockett also
testified that he accompanied Petitioner to Charlotte to
investigate when a crate of marijuana that they shipped was
stolen. (Id. at 205-06).
Lynch and Sharon Janette Kelsey-Brown (Brown), two of the
distributors operating in North Carolina with whom Petitioner
worked, testified about what happened to the marijuana after
it was shipped and how the distributors paid for it. Lynch
testified that he received the marijuana by FedEx and by
crate and that he paid for it by depositing money into bank
accounts in the name of Wade and LaChapelle. (Id. at
263-65). Brown testified that she received marijuana by FedEx
and by crate and that Petitioner discussed with her when the
marijuana was to arrive, how much was coming, and how much
money she was to send back. (Id., Doc. No. 401 at
26-27, 30-31). Brown also testified that she was told to
deposit the money into particular accounts, including those
of Wade and LaChapelle, in amounts below $10, 000.
(Id. at 27, 29-30). Multiple witnesses testified
about how Petitioner and Crockett retrieved marijuana
proceeds in California. (Id., Doc. No. 400 at
135-36, 210, 212-16, 227).
number of witnesses who participated in the drug-trafficking
operation testified about the quantity of marijuana that was
shipped from California to the East Coast. Crockett testified
that he and Petitioner shipped 40-80 pounds of marijuana five
days a week, year round, every year. (Id. at 195-96,
263). Crockett also testified that on about 40-50 occasions
he and Petitioner shipped crates containing 300-500 pounds of
marijuana by truck. (Id. at 197-203). Brown
testified that she received approximately a dozen crates and
that she received approximately 500 pounds of marijuana per
day from California. (Id., Doc. No. 401 at 26,
31-32, 36). Johnson testified that when he was working with
Petitioner, he was distributing 100-120 pounds of marijuana
per week, and that he worked with Petitioner from about 2004
until 2009 and then again from 2012 until 2013.
(Id., Doc. No. 400 at 171-72, 177). Lynch testified
that he received approximately 40 pounds a day from
Petitioner and Crockett five days a week from January through
May 2009. (Id. at 263). Lynch also testified that
Petitioner was involved in selling him marijuana on three
separate occasions that totaled 550 pounds. (Id. at
the trial, law enforcement agents testified about the results
of their extensive investigation of the marijuana
distribution operation in which Petitioner participated.
Detective James Beaver, who worked with the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and who was a task
force officer with Homeland Security Investigations,
testified that he had been involved in hundreds of marijuana
investigations. (Id., Doc. No. 403 at 31-32). Beaver
testified that he had more than 21 years of experience
investigating drug-trafficking charges and through that
experience had become “familiar with the methods of
trafficking to include packaging, distribution, movement of
proceeds, [and] pricing” of marijuana. (Id. at
32). Beaver testified that on January 9, 2009, he discovered
338 pounds of a substance that tested positive for marijuana
in a crate that had been sent from California to North
Carolina. (Id. at 31, 39-41). Through surveillance
of this crate, Beaver was able to identify the man who picked
up the crate as Gerren Darty. (Id. at 42-43, 46).
Darty met with Crockett after he picked up the crate.
(Id. at 47). Phone records showed Darty called
Petitioner the same day that the crate arrived. (Id.
at 62-63). Shipping records for the crate showed that it was
sent through the Freight Center, a Florida company.
(Id. at 70-71).
February 2009, Beaver found two abandoned crates almost
identical to the one found on January 9, 2009. (Id.
at 71). Although the crates were opened, they smelled like
marijuana. (Id. at 73). A shipping label from the
crates was connected to Darty through records obtained from
the Freight Center. (Id. at 73-75). In July 2009,
officers discovered a third crate that had been discarded
behind a business in Charlotte. (Id. at 75). Records
showed that it had been sent from California by Crockett.
(Id. at 77-78). Based on records from the Freight
Center, Beaver was able to determine that approximately 24
crates had been shipped from California to Charlotte.
(Id. at 78). Phone numbers associated with the
shipping records were connected to members of the conspiracy.
See, e.g., (Id. at 84-87). Based on the
weight of the original crate, which contained 338 pounds of
marijuana, or approximately 48% of the crate's total
weight, and the weight of the crates from the shipping
records, Beaver estimated that the 24 crates contained
approximately 5, 000 pounds of marijuana. (Id. at
also testified about the results of surveillance they
conducted of participants in the drug-trafficking operation
in California and North Carolina, searches they conducted,
and interviews of people who interacted with the
participants. (Id. at 104-15). Agents additionally
described telephone records that revealed a host of contacts
between Petitioner and other co-conspirators, including 1,
336 contacts from January to March of 2009 between Petitioner
and LaChapelle. (Id. at 66). Agents reviewed records
of cash deposits and withdrawals in bank accounts of
individuals involved in the drug-trafficking operation,
including those of Petitioner and LaChapelle. (Id.
at 176-97; Doc. No. 400 at 7-10). Special Agent Glen
MacDonald with Homeland Security Investigations testified
that he had investigated over 100 people for money laundering
and that the term “CTR” referred to a cash
transaction report, which is a report that a bank must
complete for cash transactions that involve over $10, 000.
(Id., Doc. No. 403 at 168- 69). MacDonald testified
that people often make transactions under $10, 000 in the
hope of avoiding a CTR. (Id. at 171). He testified
that, in this case, money was being deposited in North
Carolina and elsewhere and then, shortly thereafter, was
being withdrawn in California. (Id.).
David Rudy of the Beverly Hills, California, police
department testified that he had been involved with
investigating drug offenses for eleven years. (Id.,
Doc. No. 400 at 97-98). Rudy testified that he recovered
marijuana from Petitioner in Beverly Hills in January 2009.
(Id. at 98-99). Rudy stopped Petitioner after
observing his black Jaguar speeding and weaving in and out of
traffic. (Id. at 99-100). Rudy detected the smell of
marijuana, and Petitioner granted consent to search the
vehicle. (Id. at 100-01). Rudy found a brick of
marijuana wrapped in plastic wrap in the vehicle's trunk,
as well as a “pays and owes” document, which Rudy
recognized as a drug dealer's checkbook. (Id. at
101-03). Petitioner told Rudy that he was delivering the
marijuana to his mother. (Id. at 101).
was not arrested on the charges in the indictment until
January 2013. Detective Beaver was present and spoke with
Petitioner at the time of his arrest. (Id., Doc. No.
403 at 118, 125, 136-37). Petitioner called no defense
witnesses at trial. (Id., Doc. No. 401 at 187). The
jury convicted him of all three charges. (Id., Doc.
No. 351: Jury Verdict). A probation officer prepared a
presentence report, calculating Petitioner's base offense
level as 38, based on the offense involving 45, 000 pounds of
marijuana and Petitioner having possessed a dangerous weapon.
(Id., Doc. No. 419 at ¶ 22). A two-level
enhancement applied because Petitioner was convicted under
§ 1956. (Id. at ¶ 23). A four-level
enhancement applied because Petitioner was an organizer or
leader of criminal activity that involved five or more
participants, and a two-level increase for obstruction of
justice applied because Petitioner sent a letter threatening
a co-defendant. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). Based
on these calculations, the probation officer found that
Petitioner's total offense level was 46, but under the
Guidelines this was treated as an offense level of 43.
(Id. at ¶¶ 27, 38). Petitioner had 17
criminal history points, which placed him in criminal history
category VI. (Id. at ¶ 55). Based on a total
offense level of 43 and a criminal history category of VI,
the guidelines range was life imprisonment. (Id. at
¶ 83). Pursuant to § 841(b)(1)(A), a mandatory life
term applied to Petitioner's conviction of Count One
because he had two prior felony drug convictions.
(Id. at ¶ 82).
sentencing, Petitioner conceded the validity of the predicate
convictions, but argued that imposition of a mandatory life
sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. (Id., Doc.
No. 488 at 3-6). This Court overruled that objection, but
granted his objection to the two-level enhancement for
obstruction of justice. (Id. at 6, 9). Although this
reduced Petitioner's offense level to 44, it did not
reduce his guidelines range. See (U.S.S.G. Ch. 5,
Pt. A, cmt. 2 (offense levels above 43 are treated as level
43)). This Court sentenced Petitioner to concurrent sentences
of life imprisonment on Count One, 240 months of imprisonment
on Count Two, and 120 months of imprisonment on Count Four.
(Id., Doc. No. 461: Judgment).
appealed, arguing that this Court erred in admitting evidence
of his 2009 traffic stop and marijuana conviction, by denying
his motion to sever, and by finding that the mandatory life
sentence was not unconstitutional. United States v.
Cooper, 624 F. App'x 819, 820 (4th Cir. 2015),
cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1502 (2016). He also
asserted that there was insufficient evidence to show that
the conspiracy to distribute 1, 000 kilograms or more of
marijuana was reasonably foreseeable to him, and that he had
received ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. The
Fourth Circuit affirmed Petitioner's conviction and
sentence and dismissed his claims of ineffective assistance,