High Court to Rule in Conn. Robbery Case
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today agreed to resolve a dispute over taped evidence in the federal prosecution of nine men accused of robbing $7.2 million from a Wells Fargo depot in Connecticut six years ago.
The justices said they will decide whether all the tape recordings made during court-authorized electronic surveillance of the defendants may be used as trial evidence.
A federal appeals court ruled that some of the tapes may not be used as evidence because they were not sealed for safekeeping quickly enough.
Prosecutors say members of an organization in Puerto Rico known as Los Macheteros, or the machete wielders, were involved in the Sept. 12, 1983 robbery in West Hartford, Conn.
Nineteen members of the organization were indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the crime.
Evidence linking nine of the men to the Connecticut robbery was discovered during an investigation of a rocket attack on the FBI office in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.
During that investigation, court-authorized electronic snooping was conducted at six different locations in Puerto Rico between April 1984 and August 1985.
After their indictment, the nine men sought to have all tape recordings obtained during the surveillance ruled inadmissible as trial evidence.
U.S. District Judge T. Emmet Clarie in Hartford, after an eight-month hearing, last year suppressed 378 tape recordings made at two of the six locations: one defendant’s apartment in Levittown, Puerto Rico, and the home of two other defendants in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the suppression order last May 5, ruling that government agents waited too long after the taping sessions had ended to have the tapes sealed - and preserved as evidence - under a judge’s directions.
″While we eschew any thought of automatic suppression on the basis of time alone, we do not believe that any satisfactory explanation has been offered for this long delay,″ the appeals court said.
It found a 118-day delay in one instance and an 82-day delay in the other.
In the appeal acted on today, Justice Department lawyers argued that the tape recordings should not be suppressed because of delays in having them sealed if they are proved to be unaltered originals.
The nine defendants involved in the case are Filiberto Ojeda Rios, Hilton E. Fernandez Diamante, Jorge Farinacci Garcia, Elias Castro Ramos, Orlando Gonzalez Claudio, Issac Camacho Negron, Ivonne Melendez Carrion, Angel Dias Ruiz and Luis Colon Osorio.
The case is U.S. vs. Ojeda Rios, 89-61.