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United States v. Morales-Martinez

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division

August 16, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MARIA MORALES-MARTINEZ a/k/a Dalia Espinoza, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS INDICTMENT AND/OR SUPPRESS EVIDENCE

          Mark A. Roberts, United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The matter before the court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment and/or Suppress Evidence filed on June 18, 2019 with a supporting brief. (Docs. 13, 13-1.) The Government filed its resistance and opposing brief on June 25, 2019. (Docs. 14, 14-1.) The matter came on for hearing on July 17, 2019. The Court received Defendant's Exhibits A-D and Government Exhibits 1-2. Neither party offered testimony. The Court heard arguments of the parties. This matter is fully submitted.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Defendant was indicted on May 8, 2019 on two counts: Count 1, unlawful use of an identification document in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1546(a); and Count 2, misuse of a social security number in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 408(a)(7)(B).

         Defendant was formerly employed at Agri Star Meat and Poultry, LLC (“Agri Star”) in Postville, Iowa. (Doc. 13-2.) She was hired in September 2016 and fired on December 19, 2018. (Id.) Following the termination of her employment on February 26, 2019, her civil attorney mailed a “confidential settlement communication” raising complaints of pregnancy discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and seeking reinstatement or compensation in exchange for settlement of her claims. (Id. at 4.)

         On March 12, 2019, Homeland Security Special Agent Michael Fischels received an unsolicited call from Agri Star's human resources department with a tip that an employee known as Dalia Espinoza had previously worked for Agri Star under the name Leticia Alvarez. (Doc. 13-3 at 2.) Agri Star also supplied a Form I-9, State of Iowa W-4, and a Federal W-4 for Dalia Espinoza, as well as a Form I-9 for Leticia Alvarez. (Id.) It appears that Agent Fischels reviewed the forms provided by Agri Star and then commenced his own investigation by conducting credit history checks; contacting other law enforcement agencies; contacting family members; and conducting surveillance; as well as reviewing immigration records, Facebook posts, and photographs. (Id. at 2-5.) Agri Star also confirmed a match between photographs of Leticia Alvarez and Dalia Espinoza. (Id. at 4.)

         At the same time, it appears Agent Fischels was also conducting an investigation of Mario Gonzalez. This led to Agent Fischels's receipt of a police report from the Postville, Iowa Police Department describing a domestic altercation involving Mario Gonzalez and Maria Guadalupe Morales Martinez. (Doc. 13-4 at 2.) Agent Fischels was able to then opine that Defendant was the person who had used the identities of Leticia Alvarez and Dalia Espinoza. (Id.)

         The Government's brief asserts the following statements are facts:

In early 2019, HSI Special Agent (SA) Michael Fischels was visiting Agri-Star Meat and Poultry, LLC, in Postville, Iowa, on an unrelated matter. During the course of his visit, SA Fischels learned from a human resources (HR) manager that a former employee named Dalia Espinoza had previously worked at the company under the name Leticia Alvarez. SA Fischels advised the manager that he would look into the matter if they sent him documentation. The manager also mentioned something about a letter Espinoza sent to the company, but she did not provide any details about the contents of the letter, the complaint, or reasons behind the letter.

(Doc. 14-1 at 2.) The evidence adduced at the hearing, however, did not establish all of the facts asserted by the Government in its brief; i.e., that Agent Fischels obtained the tip in person, the details of who relayed the tip to him, or his knowledge of a letter Defendant sent to Agri Star. Nevertheless, even if I accept these statements as admissions by the Government showing somewhat greater involvement by Agri Star in the underlying investigation than is disclosed by the exhibits in evidence, these alleged facts do not alter my report or recommendations.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. The parties' arguments

         Defendant seeks to dismiss the indictment as a vindictive prosecution. In the alternative, Defendant asserts the Court should dismiss the indictment or “suppress all evidence obtained directly from the employer's illegal retaliation under either the ...


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