Former Head of Albuquerque-Based Drug Trafficking Organization Pleads Guilty to Federal Cocaine Trafficking and Money Laundering Charges
ALBUQUERQUE—Christopher Roybal, 35, the former leader of an Albuquerque-based drug trafficking organization, entered a guilty plea in federal court this morning. Roybal pled guilty to a cocaine trafficking conspiracy charge and four money laundering charges under a plea agreement that requires him to serve a 14-year prison sentence.
Roybal is one of the 19 defendants charged in Dec. 2012, with drug trafficking and money laundering charges in a 60-count indictment. The indictment was superseded twice; first in Feb. 2014, to add a 20th defendant and a witness tampering charge, and again in Sept. 2014, to add another witness tampering charge and a heroin trafficking charge. With today’s guilty plea, all but three of the defendants have entered guilty pleas in this case.
The charges filed in the case were the result of a 16-month multi-agency investigation into a drug trafficking organization headed by Roybal by which was led by the FBI, IRS and Albuquerque Police Department with assistance from the DEA, the HIDTA Region I Narcotic Task Force and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation, code-named “Operation Rain Check,” was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) program. OCDETF is 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.
According to the original indictment, Roybal and ten others conspired to distribute large quantities of cocaine in New Mexico between Aug. 2011 and Dec. 2012. It further alleged that Roybal and nine others conspired to distribute marijuana between Oct. 2011 and Dec. 2012. The indictment also included three separate money laundering conspiracies, 22 money laundering offenses, and 18 “telephone counts,” offenses alleging the use of a communications device to facilitate a drug trafficking offense. The indictment was superseded in May 2014, to add a new charge against defendant George Roybal, 53, of Albuquerque, alleging that he threatened an FBI informant to prevent the informant from testifying at the trial of this case which was then scheduled to begin on May 19, 2014. It was superseded again in Sept. 2014, to add two new charges against defendant Kenneth Ulibarri, 36, of Albuquerque. The new charges alleged that Ulibarri attempted to murder an FBI informant to prevent that informant from testifying at the trial of this case which was then scheduled to begin on Nov. 10, 2014, and also charged Ulibarri with distributing heroin in Bernalillo County, N.M., in May 2014.
During his change of plea hearing, Roybal pled guilty to Counts 1, 37, 38, 39 and 40 of the second superseding indictment, charging him with participating in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, three money laundering conspiracies, and a substantive money laundering offense. In entering his guilty plea, Roybal admitted that between Aug. 2011 and Dec. 2012, he conspired with others to distribute kilogram quantities of cocaine in Albuquerque and Las Vegas, N.M. Roybal also admitted participating in three conspiracies that laundered the proceeds of his drug trafficking organization. One conspiracy involved the transportation of drug proceeds from Albuquerque to California to pay for marijuana that was distributed by Roybal’s organization. The second and third conspiracies involved the laundering of Roybal’s drug proceeds through accounts at a bank and a credit union. As part of his plea agreement, Roybal agreed to forfeit his Albuquerque residence and a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro.
Three of the defendants charged in this case have entered not guilty pleas and are pending trial. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the FBI, IRS Criminal Investigation and the Albuquerque Police Department, with assistance from the DEA, the HIDTA Region I Narcotics Task Force and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joel R. Meyers and Shana B. Long. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is responsible for litigating the related civil asset forfeiture actions.