Federal Indictment Charges Six Men with Trafficking Narcotics in Lea County
ALBUQUERQUE—A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging six men with narcotics trafficking offenses, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division, and Commander Byron Wester of the Lea County Drug Task Force (LCDTF).
The seven-count indictment, which was filed yesterday, charges Leroy Castillo, 32; Sergio Garza, 35; and Joe Padilla, 32, of Hobbs, New Mexico; Ruben Estrada, 32, and Richard Armijo-Romero, 22, of Las Vegas, New Mexico; and Charlie Gutierrez, 34, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with violating the federal narcotics laws. Four of the defendants—Estrada, Garza, Armijo-Romero, and Gutierrez—were arrested on May 1, 2014, based on a criminal complaint. Castillo and Padilla have yet to be arrested and are considered fugitives. Individuals with information regarding the whereabouts of Castillo and Padilla are asked to call the FBI at 505-622-6001.
Estrada, Garza, Armijo-Romero, and Gutierrez were arraigned this morning on the indictment in federal court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and each entered a not guilty plea. Estrada and Garza were ordered detained pending trial during detention hearings held this morning. Armijo-Romero and Gutierrez remain in custody pending detention hearings scheduled for May 13, 2014.
The indictment in this case is the result of an investigation primarily targeting a drug trafficking organization operating in Lea County, New Mexico, that allegedly was led by Castillo. The investigation was led by the FBI and LCDTF, with assistance from the DEA and New Mexico State Police. The investigation was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a nationwide Department of Justice program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
Count one of the indictment alleges that between April 28, 2014 and May 1, 2014, the six defendants conspired to possess cocaine with the intention of distributing the drugs in Lea County and elsewhere. Count two alleges that the six defendants possessed cocaine with intent to distribute on May 1, 2014, in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. Counts three and four allege that Castillo possessed cocaine and heroin with intent to distribute on May 1, 2014, in Lea County. Counts five and six allege that Garza possessed cocaine and heroin with intent to distribute in Lea County on May 1, 2014. Count seven charges Garza with using and carrying a firearm in relation to and in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes in Lea County on May 1, 2014.
According to court filings, on April 28 and 29, 2014, the defendants made plans to pool their money to purchase narcotics from a source of supply in Phoenix, Arizona. On April 30, 2014, Estrada traveled to Phoenix, allegedly to purchase narcotics. On May 1, 2014, Estrada, Armijo-Romero, and Gutierrez traveled from Phoenix to Albuquerque in two vehicles. The three men were stopped by law enforcement officers on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque and were arrested after the officers found approximately 8.5 kilograms of cocaine in the vehicle Armijo-Romero was driving. Garza was arrested in Hobbs later that day.
Following the arrests of Estrada, Armijo-Romero, and Gutierrez, officers executed federal search warrants for six residences in Hobbs. The officers allegedly recovered 23 firearms, 1.6 kilograms of heroin, more than half a kilogram of methamphetamine, and an additional 4.1 kilograms of cocaine, for a total of approximately 12.6 kilograms of cocaine.
If convicted on counts one and two of the indictment, each of the six defendants faces a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison. Castillo faces a similar sentence if convicted on count four. Castillo faces a mandatory minimum of five years to a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted on count three, and Garza faces a similar sentence if convicted on counts five and six. Garza faces a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence that must be served consecutive to any other sentence imposed if he is convicted on count seven. Charges in indictments are merely accusations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the Roswell and Las Cruces Resident Agency of the FBI and the LCDTF, with assistance from the Las Cruces Office of the DEA, the New Mexico State Police, and the Phoenix Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office.
The Lea County Drug Task Force is composed of officers from the Lea County Sheriff’s Office, Hobbs Police Department, Lovington Police Department, Eunice Police Department, the Tatum Police Department, and the Jal Police Department, and is part of the HIDTA Region VI Drug Task Force. The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. HIDTA is a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) that provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug trafficking regions of the United States and seeks to reduce drug trafficking and production by facilitating coordinated law enforcement activities and information sharing.