Charges for 1 of 3 in Campustown drug case dismissed over right to speedy trial

Charges for 1 of 3 in Campustown drug case dismissed over right to speedy trial

URBANA — A Champaign County judge on Thursday dismissed felony drug charges against an Arizona man, finding that the prosecutor violated his right to a speedy trial.

Adolfo Robles-Valdez, 31, of Mesa, walked out the door of the Champaign County Jail at 12:12 p.m. Thursday, 354 days after he was arrested, accused in a drug case that University of Illinois police investigators said may have had ties to a Mexican cartel.

In a brief hearing before Judge Tom Difanis, Assistant Public Defender Ben Dyer argued that Assistant State's Attorney Dan Clifton had exceeded the 120 days he had to get Robles-Valdez prosecuted for calculated criminal drug conspiracy and possession with intent to deliver cocaine, both Class X felonies that would have carried sentences of between nine and 40 years in prison because of the amount of cocaine involved.

While acknowledging he was coming close, Clifton argued he had not run beyond his allotted time. Difanis disagreed.

The charges against Robles-Valdez and co-defendants Daniel Sagan, 22, and Oscar Aguado-Cuevas, 29, all stem from cocaine and cash that UI police found in Sagan's John Street apartment and cash and cellphones found in Robles-Valdez's truck on Oct. 1, 2017.

Court documents said that, based on two sales of cocaine that Sagan, a former UI student, allegedly made to an informant before that date, UI police obtained a search warrant for his apartment in the 300 block of East John Street.

On that Sunday night, they found 412 grams of cocaine with a street value of more than $41,000, about 2 ounces of cannabis, 3.6 grams of Ecstasy, electronic scales, plastic bags and $1,500 cash.

As they searched, Sagan received a text message saying "I'm here" at the same time they spotted Robles-Valdez's truck outside on the street.

Sagan explained to police that Robles-Valdez was there to collect $1,500 from him on behalf of Aguado-Cuevas, for whom Sagan had been selling cocaine for nine months.

Aguado-Cuevas had previously given Sagan $12,500 worth of product to sell, and Sagan said that Robles-Valdez and Aguado-Cuevas, whom he believed were related, both claimed to represent "a powerful Mexican drug cartel."

Police searched the truck Robles-Valdez was in and found $9,450 cash and two cellphones, including one that apparently sent the "I'm here" message to Sagan.

Although police knew of Aguado-Cuevas in October, they continued to investigate him and arrested him in February 2018. Both he and Sagan still have the same drug charges against them. Aguado-Cuevas remains in the county jail in lieu of $1 million bond, while Sagan is free on bond.

In an eight-page motion to dismiss the charges against Robles-Valdez, Dyer spelled out the procedural history of the case, which included motions to continue by both the defense and the state.

Robles-Valdez was initially represented by the public defender's office, but a month after he was charged, Champaign attorney Kevin Nolan took over his defense. However, Nolan withdrew in April after not being paid and the case was reassigned to the public defender.

Clifton filed at least five motions to continue, citing as reasons the need to access the contents of the cellphones taken from Robles-Valdez's truck; time to review more reports from UI police; the need to interview Aguado-Cuevas, who agreed to testify in Robles-Valdez's case; and the unavailability of a police detective who was a key witness because he had military service.

The defense asked for at least four continuances, including one because Nolan was sick and another because Dyer just got the case after Nolan withdrew.

Dyer also outlined for Difanis how many days of delay he felt were attributable to his own client's requests for continuances versus how many should be chalked up to Clifton's requests.

"As of Sept. 18, 2018, the State has exceeded the 120-day speedy-trial period by nearly any method of calculation ... and even in scenarios calculated conservatively or with extreme deference to the State," Dyer said in his motion and repeated in court Thursday.

Clifton countered that his calculations had him at day 114 on Tuesday, and therefore under the belief that he still had time to try Robles-Valdez under the 120-day rule.

Difanis disagreed, finding that a 48-day continuance from Oct. 5 to Nov. 21, 2017, that Clifton thought went against Robles-Valdez actually was attributable to the state and pushed the number over the 120-day mark.

State's Attorney Julia Rietz expressed her frustration with the ruling.

"If we asked for a continuance based on witness unavailability and they objected, that's on us," she said. "That's not incompetence; that's the law. If a judge sets it for a pretrial far down the road, that's the judge's decision. But it falls back on us. I'm not making excuses."

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