United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
Drug Trafficker Who Hid Pounds of Heroin and Methamphetamine in apartment walls sentenced to long prison term
Roommate Shot and Killed by Armed Intruders, Leading to Discovery of Drugs and Guns
A drug trafficker who came to the attention of law enforcement after his roommate was shot and killed in November 2012, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to 15 years in prison and five years of supervised release, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. JUAN HIDALGO-MENDOZA, 33, of Lakewood, Washington was convicted following a jury trial in May 2013 of Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances, Possession with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substances, Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Offense and being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm/Ammunition. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton referred to HIDALGO-MENDOZA’s apartment as “ground zero” for local trafficking activity and “a magnet for crime and violence” that drew the attention of armed intruders and led to the death of his roommate.
According to records filed in the case, emergency crews responded to the Greenwood Apartments on San Francisco Ave. SW, in Lakewood, just before 10:00 p.m. on November 12, 2012. They found Jaime Diaz-Solis with a fatal gunshot wound on the sidewalk outside the ground floor apartment he shared with HIDALGO-MENDOZA. According to witnesses, they heard a gunshot and later HIDALGO-MENDOZA dragged Dias-Solis from the apartment yelling for neighbors to call an ambulance. HIDALGO-MENDOZA said he was in his bedroom when the victim was shot by an intruder. On the night of the shooting a search of the apartment revealed two bricks of heroin weighing over three kilos, wrapped in duct tape, as well as an AK-47 style assault weapon and ammunition. Investigators also found a revolver in HIDALGO-MENDOZA’s bedroom closet. Hidden under the seat of HIDALGO-MENDOZA’s truck, investigators found $37,800 in cash. HIDALGO-MENDOZA was arrested in November for the drug conspiracy as well as being a felon in possession of a firearm. He has a prior conviction in California for distributing heroin and is prohibited from possessing firearms.
Two months after HIDALGO-MENDOZA’s arrest, and after the apartment had been rented to a new tenant, law enforcement learned there were additional drugs hidden in the unit. In the walls they found eight bricks of heroin wrapped in duct tape, and two bricks of methamphetamine wrapped in green cellophane. The hidden heroin totaled more than 13 kilos and the methamphetamine was nearly two kilos. The wrapping of the heroin was identical to the two bricks seized in November.
In asking for a significant sentence prosecutors wrote to the court, “Hidalgo-Mendoza is a repeat offender. He was caught, convicted, and imprisoned for selling heroin three years before this offense, in California. He was subject to court supervision for that offense at the time he came to Washington, ostensibly to obtain a driver’s license but almost certainly with designs related to the drug trade. That being the case, unlike first-time offenders, he cannot claim ignorance to the potential criminal consequences of drug trafficking activity, and was intimately aware of the hazards of the business (evidenced by his weapons) as well as the tragic impact drugs have on users.”
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. The case was investigated by Lakewood Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). The Auburn Police Department assisted with the case.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Sarah Vogel and Steven Masada.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office on August 27 is Thomas Bates at (206) 553-7970 or Thomas.Bates@usdoj.gov.