On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Indictment No. 06-06-1387D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 21, 2008
Before Judges Collester and Graves.
Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, defendant Christopher Graham entered a guilty plea to three counts of a 105-count indictment against him, namely, conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(2); operating a controlled dangerous substance production facility, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-4; and possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1) and 2C:35-5b(1). On April 20, 2007, he was sentenced to an aggregate term of twenty years.*fn1
Defendant's convictions stem from an extensive, ongoing investigation of narcotics trafficking in Atlantic County which began on January 4, 2006, when members of the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Narcotic Strike Force arrested an individual in Pleasantville with three ounces of crack cocaine and a shotgun. This individual agreed to serve as a cooperating witness (CW) in the Strike Force's ongoing investigation. He told members of the Strike Force that he had purchased the crack the previous day from Troy Sanchez and that Sanchez gave him the shotgun to hide for him. He said he had been dealing with Sanchez for about two years, purchasing two ounces of cocaine from Sanchez roughly every four days. An inquiry into Sanchez's background revealed that he had been arrested five times for drug offenses over the past decade and that one arrest culminated in a conviction for distribution of CDS and a seven-year sentence.
On January 6, 2006, the CW made a controlled purchase of one and one-half ounces of crack cocaine from a Sanchez associate. Four days later the CW attempted to arrange a purchase of the same quantity of crack cocaine, but the transaction was not completed because Sanchez had only powdered cocaine. Two days later on January 12, 2006, the CW made a second controlled purchase of two ounces of crack cocaine from the same Sanchez associate and paid $1,650. The third controlled purchase of crack cocaine was made on January 16, 2006, and the CW paid $1,450 to Sanchez's associate.
Four days after his third controlled purchase of crack cocaine, the CW was found dead in Atlantic City. He had been strangled and shot.
Investigator Tracy P. Wich of the Strike Force then prepared an application for an order authorizing the interception of wire and electronic communications from the telephone Sanchez used to arrange the sales of crack cocaine to the CW. Wich's application stated he had been employed by the Division of Criminal Justice for approximately seven years, the last three with the Major Narcotics Bureau. He received training in narcotics investigations through national courses and in-service training, participated in more than 1,000 narcotics-related investigations, and had experience preparing applications for communications data warrants and monitoring wiretaps.
The application was granted on January 30, 2006, by Judge Albert J. Garafolo, a Superior Court judge designated to review and grant wiretap warrants. Two days later, investigators intercepted a conversation between Sanchez and the defendant during which defendant told Sanchez, "I got that situation for you." In response, Sanchez said: "Alright, just put that on ice though cause . . . that's to the side . . . that's already in . . . . I'm gonna start . . . the day after tomorrow with that. . . ." After defendant answered "Alright," Sanchez concluded, "I'm ready to come back around though, I'm coming around in a little bit."
Based on his training, experience and knowledge of facts disclosed by the investigation into Sanchez's activities, Investigator Wich stated that the conversation related to a cocaine transaction. Wich interpreted the statements by defendant to mean he had cocaine for Sanchez, and that Sanchez wanted defendant to put the cocaine aside so he could sell it to his customers the next day.
Two days later investigators overheard Sanchez arrange for the sale of two ounces of cocaine to an unidentified female. Over the following week investigators intercepted various communications in which Sanchez arranged various illegal transactions involving firearms and the sale of cocaine, Percocet, and marijuana. On February 12, 2006, investigators intercepted another conversation between Sanchez and defendant. Defendant asked Sanchez on that date why Sanchez had not previously called him. Sanchez responded:
Nah, I thought you got, I thought you probably seen the time in the . . . kitchen. . . . I'm like, you know nobody don't like to get rushed on that shit, you know what I mean? Its all in the in the wrist baby, I ain't want to, you know what I mean? You needed your concentration. . . .
Defendant replied, "Nah man, on the straight up you don't even got [to] twirl nothing you just got to pour the water out," Sanchez said, "Oh right (laughing), oh that's how you do it? You ain't twirling ...