By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
HARRISONBURG -- A man in the country illegally now serving nearly 13 years in federal prison for drug and gun crimes claims he had ineffective legal counsel.
Joel Dominguez Vazquez, formerly of Frederick County, remains held at the federal correctional institution in Fort Dix, N.J., where he is serving concurrent terms of 12 years and seven months for one count each of distribution of 500 grams or more of cocaine and conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms of the drug, and 10 years unlawful transport of firearms.
Vazquez filed a motion in U.S. District Court on Monday asking a judge to vacate the terms as imposed and grant the inmate either an evidentiary hearing or re-sentence him without using enhanced guidelines which he claims should not have applied in his case.
The inmate, who filed the motion on his own behalf, claims he received ineffective legal counsel from his court-appointed attorney.
"Whether there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's incompetence performance, this decision would have been different and (petitioner) would not have accepted a proposed plea agreement based upon false hopes given by his attorney," Vazquez states in the 18-page, handwritten motion.
Vazquez states the attorney failed to challenge the federal prosecutors when they sought an enhanced punishment for the drug offenses in relation to the gun charge.
"The alleged weapons were not found anywhere near the drugs," Vazquez states. "The mentioned weapons were not used in the commitment of the instance offense of drugs."
Vazquez, also known to authorities as "Mexican Joe," Hugo Ramirez Hernandez, Jorge Sanchez and Chino, pleaded guilty to the three charges in the court in October 2010 under an agreement reached between the U.S. Attorney's office and his appointed counsel, Joel C. Hoppe. U.S. Judge Glen E. Conrad sentenced Vazquez Jan. 27, 2011.
A statement of facts submitted by the prosecutors in the case states that law enforcement agents searched Vazquez's home on Northwestern Pike on May 4, 2010. Agents seized from his home 12 firearms, including rifles, shotguns, revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, along with more than $3,800 in cash and cell phones. Agents also recovered five packages containing a total of more than 1 kilogram of cocaine and two packages of marijuana totaling more than 2 kilograms, according to the statement of facts.
Vazquez told agents he and his girlfriend, not identified in the statement of facts, were in the country illegally and he came to the United States with the help of a "coyote" in 1994.
Vazquez informed agents he had a couple of pounds of marijuana in the back of a white Dodge Durango.
A confidential informant working for agents told investigators he traveled with Vazquez to North Carolina in October 2009 to buy 10 kilograms of cocaine from a supplier, the statement notes.