News and Press Releases

Tohatchi man pleads guilty to federal drug trafficking offenses

January 6, 2011

Earlier today, Nephi Chato, 21, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and resident of Tohatchi, New Mexico, entered guilty pleas to five counts of a seven-count federal indictment charging him with marijuana trafficking offenses before United States Magistrate Judge W. Daniel Schneider. Specifically, Nephi Chato pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana (Count 1); three counts of marijuana distribution (Counts 2, 3 and 4); and using a place for the distribution and use of marijuana (Count 7). Nephi Chato has been in custody since his arrest on October 18, 2010, and faces up to twenty years imprisonment and a maximum $500,000 fine at sentencing. His sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.

Nephi Chato entered his guilty pleas pursuant to a plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office. In the plea agreement, Nephi Chato admitted that he and his 23 year old brother, Dion Chato, sold marijuana out of their residential home in Tohatchi between May 2010 and July 2010. According to the plea agreement, Nephi Chato and Dion Chato sold marijuana out of their residence on the following dates (i) May 21, 2010 – 38.1 grams of marijuana; (ii) June 16, 2010 – 106.1 grams of marijuana; and (iii) July 6, 2010 – 189.6. In his plea agreement, Nephi Chato claimed that his brother Dion Chato was primarily responsible for arranging the marijuana sales and that he assisted his brother.

Dion Chato, who was charged as a co-defendant in this case, entered guilty pleas to all seven-counts of the indictment on December 13, 2010. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for January 25, 2011.

Nephi Chato and Dion Chato were two of nine defendants arrested on October 18, 2010 on federal methamphetamine and marijuana charges following a five-month Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation code-named “Operation Yé’iitsoh.” The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety (NNDPS) initiated this Operation for the purpose of combating the growing drug trafficking problem in and around the Navajo Reservation. The Operation was brought as part of the Native American Project (NAP) Initiative, which is supported by the DEA’s Albuquerque District Office in partnership with the BIA and the NNDPS, and is funded by the HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) program and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Samuel A. Hurtado.

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