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Baghalzadeh v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

November 14, 2019

FARSHIEN BAGHALZADEH, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          Robert J. Conrad, Jr., United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [Doc. 1].

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 17, 2015, Petitioner Farshien Baghalzadeh (“Petitioner”) was charged in a Bill of Information with one count of drug trafficking conspiracy, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 846 (Count One) and one count of money laundering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) (Count Two). [Criminal No. 3:15-cr-00272-RJC-DSC (“CR”), Doc. 1: Bill of Information]. On November 18, 2015, Petitioner and the Government entered into a Plea Agreement pursuant to which Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to both Counts One and Two in exchange for charging concessions made by the Government. [CR Doc. 3: Plea Agreement].

         In the Plea Agreement, Petitioner stipulated that there was a factual basis for his guilty plea and that he had read and understood the Factual Basis that was attached to his Plea Agreement and that the Court and the United States Probation office may use it, without objection by Petitioner, to determine the applicable advisory guideline range or the appropriate sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). [CR Doc. 3 at ¶ 14]. The Factual Basis, which “[did] not attempt to set forth all of the facts known to the United States” at the time it was prepared, was filed with the Plea Agreement. [CR Doc. 2 at 1]. It provided, in pertinent part, as follows:

1. On September 8, 2015, a confidential information (“CI”) purchased approximately 270 grams of cocaine from Defendant Farshien Baghalzadeh. Law enforcement conducted constant surveillance leading up to the transaction, as well as after the transaction, and observed the Defendant return to his residence.
2. A half hour later, the Defendant then met with another individual and left. The police stopped the Defendant and obtained consent to search his residence. In an abundance of caution, they also obtained a search warrant.
3. In the Defendant's residence, they found several additional grams of cocaine, approximately $75, 301 in U.S. currency, and 6 firearms (2 of which were incomplete weapons but included the receiver), all of which he knowingly possessed. The Defendant had evidence of travel to Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, and Atlanta. The law enforcement team also located numerous deposit slips for multi-thousand-dollar transactions, some indicative of structuring to avoid the currency transaction reporting requirement….
4. During a debriefing, the CI had stated that he had picked up 9 ounces (252 grams) of cocaine from the Defendant on approximately 6 occasions.
5. Based on all of the aforementioned cocaine and proceeds, the amount of cocaine and laundered cocaine proceeds that were known to and reasonably foreseeable by the Defendant was in excess of five (5) kilograms but less than fifteen (15) kilograms.

[Id. at 1-2].

         In the Plea Agreement, the parties agreed “to reserve their right to argue whether the Defendant should receive a two-level weapon enhancement pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1).” [CR Doc. 3 at ¶ 7]. Finally, Petitioner agreed to waive the right to contest his conviction and sentence on direct appeal or in any post-conviction proceeding, except as to claims of ineffective assistance or prosecutorial misconduct. [Id. at ¶ 19].

         At the plea hearing, the Court reviewed the Bill of Information with Petitioner and confirmed Petitioner's understanding of the charges. [CR Doc. 34 at 3-4: Plea Hearing Tr.]. The Bill of Information charged Petitioner as follows on Count One:

From at least as early as in or about June 2015 to in or about September 2015, in Union County, within the Western District of North Carolina, and elsewhere, [Petitioner] did knowingly and intentionally conspire and agree with other person, known and unknown to the United States, to distribute and to posses with intent to distribute a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine, a Schedule II controlled substance, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(C), and 846.

         [CR Doc. 1 at 1]. As for Count Two, the Information charged Petitioner as follows:

From at least as early as in or about June 2015 to in or about September 2015, in Union County, within the Western District of North Carolina, and elsewhere, [Petitioner] did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate and agree with other persons, known and unknown to the United States, to commit offenses against the United States in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956, to wit: to knowingly conduct and attempt to conduct financial transactions affecting interstate commerce and foreign commerce, which transactions involved the proceeds of specified unlawful activity, that is, the manufacture, importation, sale, or distribution of a controlled substance, knowing that the transactions were designed in whole or in part to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the proceeds of specific unlawful activity, and that while conducting and attempting to conduct such financial transactions, knew that the property involved in the financial transactions represented the proceeds of some form of unlawful activity, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(a)(1)(B)(i).

         All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1976(h). [Id. at 1-2]. The Court then, on Petitioner's request, accepted Petitioner's guilty plea to the two counts in the Information. [Doc. 34 at 5]. In the plea colloquy, after again affirming that he fully understood the charges against him, [Id. at 6], Petitioner affirmed, among other things, that he was in fact guilty of the two counts to which he was pleading guilty, [Id. at 9]

         In summarizing the Plea Agreement at the plea hearing, the Government noted that Petitioner understood that the charging concessions by the Government were made in exchange for Petitioner's agreement to plead guilty to Counts One and Two. [Id. at 10]. The Government also noted Petitioner's stipulation that there was a factual basis for his plea and the parties' agreement that a two-level enhancement applied to the money laundering charge, but that the parties reserved their right to argue whether Petitioner should receive a two-level firearm enhancement and. [Id. at 11]. Petitioner testified that he understood and agreed to those terms. [Id. at 13]. Petitioner also testified that he had read the Factual Basis that was filed with his Plea Agreement, and that he understood it and agreed with it. [Id.]. Petitioner then testified that no one had threatened, intimidated or forced him to enter a guilty plea; that he had enough time to discuss with his attorney any possible defenses Petitioner may have to the charges; and that he was satisfied with the services of his attorneys in this case. [Id. at 13-14]. Finally, Petitioner testified that he had heard and understood all parts of his plea hearing and still wished to plead guilty. [Id. at 14]. Thereafter, the magistrate judge accepted Petitioner's guilty plea, finding that it was knowingly and voluntarily made. [Id. at 15].

         Petitioner was sentenced on December 13, 2016. [CR Doc. 35: Sentencing Hearing Tr.]. Before this hearing, a probation officer prepared a Presentence Investigation Report (“PSR”). [CR Doc. 16: PSR]. In the PSR, the probation officer recommended a two-level enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1) on Count One based on Petitioner's possession of multiple firearms and found a Total Offense Level (TOL) of 31. [Id. at ¶ 18]. The probation officer also provided Petitioner's extensive criminal history, which included among many other things, two dismissed charges of possession of a stolen motor vehicle in Union County, North Carolina, one from 2002 and one from 2008. [Id. at ¶¶ 58, 65]. Despite Petitioner's extensive criminal history, Petitioner's criminal history score was 0 and his Criminal History Category was I. [Id. at ¶¶ 49, 50]. Petitioner objected to the application of the two-level firearm enhancement, arguing that it was “'clearly improbable' that the weapons he possessed were connected to the instant offense.” [Id. at 18].

         At Petitioner's sentencing hearing, the parties again stipulated to there being a factual basis to support Petitioner's guilty plea and that the Court could rely on the offense conduct set forth in the presentence report to establish that factual basis. [CR Doc. 35 at 4]. Based on that stipulation, the Court found that there was a factual basis to support the entry of the guilty plea. [Id.]. Counsel for the parties then argued extensively regarding and ...


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