As a result of federal drug convictions in Florida, Michel Barranco-Millares is looking at jail time. He’s also staring down a hefty utility bill.
Barranco-Millares was convicted of possession with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants and maintaining a marijuana “grow house” — separate federal criminal offenses — after authorities busted a growing operation in his rental house in Homestead. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence showing that Barranco-Millares diverted electricity from other homes in order to power the grow house without incurring a large utility bill, which could have tipped police off to the operation. Following the conviction, the U.S. District Court ordered Barranco-Millares to pay the City of Homestead more than $26,000 in restitution for electricity theft and related damages caused to the city’s electrical infrastructure.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s restitution decision, finding that Barranco-Millares was liable for the amount ordered.
Under the federal Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA), a convicted criminal is required to pay restitution for certain losses suffered by a victim as a direct result of the crime. In order to show direct and proximate causation, the government “must show not only that a particular loss would not have occurred but for the conduct underlying the offense of conviction, but also that the causal connection between the conduct and the loss is not too attenuated (either factually or temporally),” the Court explained. Although the conduct need not be the only cause of the damage, it must be at least related to any later causes.
The court rejected Barranco-Millares’ argument that his crimes were not the direct cause of the infrastructure damage, finding that the diversion and theft of electricity was necessary for him to commit the crimes. Specifically, Barranco-Millares used the extra energy to power the lamps and air conditioning units required to properly grow his marijuana plants. As a result, the Court concluded that the city would not have suffered the damage but for Barranco-Millares’ operation of the grow house.
The Court also rejected Barranco-Millares’ claim that the city did not qualify as a “victim” under the statute because the infrastructure damage occurred at the grow house, the owner of which would be responsible for any repairs. A city official testified that it, not the owner, would ultimately be performing the repairs, and the Court found this was sufficient to establish that the city was a “victim.”
Finally, the Court ruled that the restitution amount was appropriate. Noting that damage valuation is an “inexact science,” the Court said that the district court did not abuse its discretion in relying on city official testimony concerning the value of the electricity diverted and the costs incurred as a result of necessary infrastructure repairs.
As this case makes clear, the consequences of a drug conviction can be far reaching. If you are facing a drug charge in Florida, you should seek the advice of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who will advocate for your rights and interests. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have years of experience handling drug cases and will work to develop an effective legal defense, seeking to get your charges dismissed or reduced.
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