United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
Government charges Defendant Jose Antonio Escobedo with
conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute
methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute
methamphetamine. (Doc. 7.) Before the Court is Escobedo's
motion to suppress evidence. (Doc. 21.) The Government filed
a response (Doc. 23), to which Escobedo filed a reply (Doc.
27). The Court held a hearing on the motion on November 8,
2019. For the following reasons, the Court denies
Escobedo's motion to suppress.
Southwest Border Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC) is
a web-accessible database law enforcement uses to monitor
person-to-person money transfers concentrated in southwest
border-states and Mexico. (Doc. 23 at 3.) It is available
online at www.sbtrac.com, but only law enforcement officers
with a login and password may access it. (Doc. 27 at 2.)
2014, Western Union-a prominent person-to-person money
transfer corporation-and the Arizona Attorney General entered
into an agreement to create TRAC. (Doc. 23 at 3.) Western
Union agreed to provide the Government with transaction data
for all money transfers of $500 or more that are sent or
received in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and
Mexico. Since that time, several other money transfer
services, like RIA Financial, have also agreed to provide the
Government with the same data. The TRAC system now provides
law enforcement with the information an individual supplies a
third-party money transfer service to execute a money
transfer, including the individual's name, address, date
of birth, and other identifying information; the transaction
date and amount; the location the funds were sent to; and the
name of the transfer recipient. Law enforcement uses TRAC to
investigate money laundering related to human trafficking,
human smuggling, narcotics trafficking, and terrorism.
Officers can search the database for transactions originating
from particular cities over certain timeframes.
before August 2019, Border Patrol Agent Matt Henderson, who
was assigned to the FBI Big Sky Transactional Organized Crime
West Task Force (TFO Henderson), was monitoring TRAC for
suspicious person-to-person transactions. (Doc. 23 at 2, 4.)
He entered search criteria for recent money transfers sent
from Billings, Montana. (Id.) TRAC returned
Escobedo's name in a series of money transfers sent to
McAllen, Texas-a border city known for importing
methamphetamine. TFO Henderson noted the frequency and amount
sent were suspicious. He passed this information to Detective
Tanner Buechler of the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug
Task Force. (Id. at 4.)
investigation into Escobedo's criminal history showed he
had been convicted for drug-related crimes in Texas.
Therefore, Detective Beuchler began suspecting Escobedo was
wiring money to McAllen in exchange for drugs sent through
the mail. He identified Escobedo's physical address in
Billings and contacted USPS Inspector Mike Smith. Inspector
Smith discovered Escobedo had received several packages from
McAllen, one of which was in USPS's possession and was
scheduled to be delivered on August 12, 2019. (Id.)
Investigators conducted a K9 sniff on the package, and the K9
alerted to the presence of narcotics. Inspector Smith
obtained a search warrant based on this information and
located 254.9 grams of a crystal substance later confirmed to
be methamphetamine. Investigators replaced some of the
substance with rock salt and prepared to conduct a controlled
Buechler obtained an anticipatory search warrant for
Escobedo's home. (Id.) On August 13, 2019, task
force officers conducted a controlled delivery.
(Id.) Escobedo retrieved the package and entered his
home, after which officers executed the search warrant.
August 29, 2019, law enforcement served Custom Summonses on
Western Union and RIA Financial-both services Escobedo had
used to transfer money. (Id. at 5.) TFO Michael
Robinson received the records on September 10, 2019. The
records showed Escobedo sent money six times to McAllen,
Texas, from May 7, 2019, to July 6, 2019. (Id.)
argues law enforcement improperly gathered the information
about his money transfers. He argues he had an expectation of
privacy in the information and law enforcement received it in
violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Therefore, evidence gathered as a result of examining data
from the TRAC system must be suppressed.
is incorrect; he did not have an expectation of privacy in
the information. Western Union and RIA Financial-third
parties-gave information about Escobedo's transactions to
law enforcement. Escobedo lost any expectation of privacy he
had in the information when he turned it over to the third
parties. Moreover, it was non-content information-that is,
the information did not contain the contents of a
conversation or communication.
United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976), after
a fire broke out in Miller's warehouse, authorities
discovered an underground distilling operation. Id.
at 437. ATF agents then presented grand jury subpoenas to two
banks Miller held accounts with and asked the banks to
produce "all records of accounts, i.e., savings
checking, loan or otherwise," in Miller's name.
Id. The banks complied, but Miller moved to suppress
the records as illegally seized. Id. at 439. The
Supreme Court held Miller's bank records contained
information he had voluntarily disclosed to the banks and
their employees "in the ordinary course of
business." Id. at 442. Therefore, Miller had no
expectation of privacy in the records because "[w]hat a
person knowingly exposes to the public ... is not a subject
of Fourth Amendment protection." Id. (quoting
Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967)).
The Court continued,
The depositor takes the risk, in revealing his affairs to
another, that the information will be conveyed by that person
to the Government. This Court has held repeatedly that the
Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of
information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to
Government authorities, even if the information is revealed
on the assumption that it will be used ...