California man admits meth trafficking crime
BILLINGS — A California man accused of trafficking methamphetamine after law enforcement officers found 24 pounds of the drug hidden in a vehicle he was driving pleaded guilty today to a trafficking crime, Acting U.S. Attorney Leif Johnson said.
Christopher Santillanes Ceja, 31, of Riverside, California, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute meth. Ceja faces a mandatory minimum 10 years to life in prison, a $10 million fine and at least five years of supervised release. Ceja was detained pending further proceedings.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided. A sentencing date before U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters has not yet been set.
In court documents filed in the case, the government alleged that law enforcement agents learned in March 2019 about a shipment of meth being transported from Mexico to Billings. Law enforcement surveillance saw a vehicle with a California license plate registered to Ceja pull into a Billings hotel. Ceja was known to law enforcement as having been involved in meth trafficking in the Billings area. Later that same evening, officers conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle and Ceja was driving. Agents impounded and searched the vehicle pursuant to a warrant. Agents located 19 bundles of meth concealed throughout the vehicle. The meth totaled 11 kilograms, or about 24.2 pounds, of pure meth. Eleven kilograms of meth is the equivalent of about 87,700 doses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI Western Transnational Organized Crime Task Force and the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a U.S. Department of Justice initiative to reduce violent crime. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime in Montana increased by 48% from 2013 to 2019. Through PSN, federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement partners in Montana focus on violent crime driven by methamphetamine trafficking, armed robbers, firearms offenses and violent offenders with outstanding warrants.
Clair Johnson Howard
Public Affairs Officer