Most of the illegal drug profits of convicted heroin dealer Antonio Cruz Vazquez will be safe from confiscation because of a trial error made by the U.S. prosecutor here.
The Racketeering in Interstate Commerce section under which Cruz Vazquez was convicted provides for forfeiture of profits from a criminal enterprise. In order for the court to declare this forfeiture, the jury must reach a finding on the amount of the profits.
Defense attorney William Terry of Las Vegas had anticipated that the Cruz Vazquez prosecutor would ask for such forfeiture and prepared defense instructions to the jury in reply. But Susan E. Shepard, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, was not similarly aware of what the law required.
"I might say that I alerted the government and Mr. Terry of the possibility that I might declare a forfeiture of the profits, but I find under the rules I would require a special verdict in order to do that," presiding Judge Jacob ler said to Shepard at the sentencing of Cruz Vazquez. "Are you aware of that?"
"No, I wasn't, your honor," the U.S. attorney replied.
"We learn something every day," said Mishler.
In an interview afterward Mishler said that the responsibility for asking for the special verdict was the prosecution's but added, "It's so new I don't want to blame the U.S. attorney for it."
Mishler fined Cruz Vazquez $125,000 and said that "conferring judges" whom he did not name said he could have fined him $200,000.
"I thought $125,000 was the maximum," Mishler said. "If I am wrong, I cost the government some money." Most of Cruz Vazquez's profits presumably were lost at the baccarat table in Caesars Palace, where he left a debt of $547,000. But he had a house in Las Vegas valued at $200,000 and two automobiles.