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United States v. Slone

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

February 28, 2019



          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge.


         This case presents an issue regarding application of the First Step Act of 2018 (hereafter, “the 2018 Act”) to a subset of defendants who entered guilty pleas prior to the effective date of the 2018 Act but were not sentenced until after December 21, 2018. More specifically, the precise legal question concerns the date on which a conviction is deemed to be “entered” under Section 402(b) of the 2018 Act. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned concludes that, in this case, the defendant's conviction was “entered” on the date she acknowledged her guilt to the count of conviction. The guilty plea was accepted by the Court on that same date, without qualification. Because that date occurred before December 21, 2018, the defendant does not receive the benefits of the expanded safety-valve provision of the 2018 Act. However, another provision of the 2018 Act does apply and reduces the mandatory minimum term of incarceration from 240 months to 120 months.


         Defendant Megan Slone lived with co-Defendant Miguel Esparza and assisted him in distributing large amounts of fentanyl in the Eastern District of Kentucky during 2017. She pleaded guilty in April 2018 to conspiring to distribute 400 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841(a)(1). [Record No. 55] The facts supporting Slone's guilt are outlined in paragraph 3 of her Plea Agreement. [Record No. 56] The parties agreed that:

(a) Beginning in August 2017 and continuing though December 2017, the defendant conspired with co-defendant Miguel Esparza, and with others, to distribute at least 1.2 kilograms but less than 4 kilograms of fentanyl. Based on information collected during the investigation, law enforcement personnel learned that co-defendants Gadiel Ortiz and Brian Hensley resided at East Court Street in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The defendant and co-defendant Miguel Esparza cohabited at an apartment at Leestown Road in Lexington.
(b) In August of 2017, a cooperating source (CS) advised DEA agents he/she had been historically provided with large quantities of heroin from Ciro Macias-Martinez under the direction of a Hispanic male who resided in Mexico nicknamed “Vato.” After Macias-Martinez was arrested, investigators believed that co-defendant Gadiel Ortiz and others began to receive and distribute controlled substances at “Vato's” direction. Agents utilized the CS to purchase approximately 300 grams of fentanyl from co-defendants Ortiz, Hensley and Esparza. After a traffic stop of Ortiz and Hensley on December 5, 2017, and the seizure of an additional kilogram of fentanyl, law enforcement officers obtained a state search warrant for the residence of the defendant and co-defendant Miguel Esparza at Leestown Road in Lexington, Kentucky.
(c) When officers arrived to execute the warrant, both defendants were present in the residence. The warrant execution resulted in the seizure of approximately one and one-half kilograms of fentanyl. Approximately one kilogram of fentanyl was located in a closet containing primarily men's clothing. Digital scales and a quantity of U.S. currency were also located in the same closet.
(d) In a second closet, containing primarily women's clothing and accessories and primarily used by the defendant, officers located approximately one-half kilogram of fentanyl inside a tote organizer. The packaging was similar to that of the kilogram quantity located in the other closet, but had been opened.
A large plastic bag was located near the half-kilogram quantity, which appeared to contain several ounces of a controlled substance. The box for the digital scales found in the first closet was locate in the tote, along with U.S. currency and miscellaneous documents in the names of both the defendant and co-defendant Miguel Esparza. Included in those documents was a lease agreement for the apartment, which provided that the defendant and Esparza were the lessees of the residence. On a shelf in this same closet, a small bag containing a quantity of fentanyl was located and seized.
(e) Also on December 5, 2017, a federal search warrant was executed at the residence of co-defendants Ortiz and Hensley at East Court Street in Lawrenceburg. A rifle and shotgun was [sic] located in the residence. During his interview with DEA agents, co-defendant Ortiz admitted that he had stored three kilograms of fentanyl in his residence during the conspiracy.
(f) All of the controlled substances were tested and found to contain fentanyl. The total amount of fentanyl is approximately 3 kilograms. The defendant admits that she knowingly and voluntarily agreed with co-defendant Esparza to store fentanyl at their shared residence for distribution and that she knew that the quantity of fentanyl was at least 1.2 kilograms but less than 4 kilograms.

         Paragraph 5 of the defendant's Plea Agreement outlines the parties' recommendations regarding the manner in which the defendant's guideline range for imprisonment will be calculated under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. It provides:

         5. Pursuant to Rule 11(c)(1)(B), the United States and the Defendant recommend the following sentencing guideline calculations, and they may object to or argue in favor of other calculations. This recommendation does not bind the Court.

(a) United States Sentencing Guidelines (U.S.S.G.), November 1, 2016, manual, will determine the Defendant's guidelines range.
(b) Pursuant to U.S.S.G. §2D1.1(c)(4), the base offense level is 32 based on the amount of fentanyl (1.2 - 4 kilograms) attributable to the Defendant.
(c) Pursuant to U.S.S.G. §2D1.1(b)(1), the United States' position is that a 2-level increase for possession of a firearm properly applies. The Defendant reserves the right to object to application of this enhancement.
(d) Pursuant to § 2D1.1(b)(12), increase the base offense level by 2 levels because the defendant maintained a residence for the purpose of manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance.
(e) Pursuant to U.S.S.G. §3E1.1 and unless the Defendant commits another crime, obstructs justice, or violates a court order, decrease the offense level by 2 levels for the Defendant's acceptance of responsibility. If the offense level determined prior to this 2-level decrease is 16 or greater, the United States will move at sentencing to decrease the offense level by 1 additional level based on the Defendant's [sic] timely notice of intent to plead guilty.

[Record No. 56, p. 4] Thus, the clear language of the Plea Agreement establishes that the proposed guideline ...

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