Federal Jury Convicts Illegal Alien of Trafficking Pounds of Meth to Great Falls
GREAT FALLS – Late Tuesday a federal jury in Great Falls convicted Eduardo Ocegueda-Ruiz, 30, of Los Angeles, California of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm. After the guilty verdicts were read, Judge Brian Morris of Great Falls set sentencing for June 3, 2015. Ocegueda-Ruiz, who has been convicted previously of numerous drug felonies in California, faces life in prison, and if ever released, a lifetime of supervised release, and $10,000,000 in fines.
Ocegueda-Ruiz was charged in a multiple-count indictment with 19 other defendants as part of a methamphetamine conspiracy entitled “Operation Highline Crystal Highway.” The 19 co-defendants have all plead guilty to felony drugs and gun charges and are awaiting sentencing.
During the 2-day trial, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Betley and Tara Elliott presented evidence that during the winter and spring of 2013, the Russell Country Drug Task Force began to investigate a large-scale methamphetamine trafficking organization operating out of Great Falls. Throughout the next 18 months, agents discovered large quantities of methamphetamine were routinely being transported from Los Angeles, California, to various areas of Montana, including Butte, Great Falls, and Havre by Ocegueda-Ruiz and co-defendant, Joshua Rodriguez.
Intercepted conversations and informants provided evidence that Ocegueda-Ruiz wanted to come to Montana to “kick in doors with guns blazing,” and appeared to be Rodriguez’s strong arm and enforcer. Ocegueda-Ruiz told co-defendants that he is “illegal” and described how he crosses the border from Mexico into the United States. In addition, Ocegueda-Ruiz admitted to other members of the conspiracy that he and Rodriguez intended to kill another conspirator because the conspirator was “out of control” and causing too much trouble. Witnesses established that Ocegueda-Ruiz regularly brandished firearms as a way to intimidate and threaten other actors in the drug distribution operation.
Ocegueda-Ruiz and Rodriguez made a final trip from California to Montana in the early morning hours of September 25, 2014. At approximately 4 a.m., California Highway Patrol Troopers conducted a traffic stop on a car driven by Rodriguez near Victorville, California. Troopers identified Rodriguez as the driver of the car and Ocegueda-Ruiz as the passenger. The California Highway Patrol’s drug dog alerted to the rear of the car where troopers seized 888.1 grams, or approximately two pounds, of pure methamphetamine. Troopers also seized a scale and empty baggies. Aware that Rodriguez and the defendant were the subject of the Montana investigation, and that allowing the pair to continue on would further that investigation, the troopers advised Ocegueda-Ruiz and Rodriguez that criminal charges would be forthcoming but that they would be released until charges were filed. Ocegueda-Ruiz and Rodriguez were allowed to leave and continued, under law enforcement surveillance, on to Montana.
When Rodriguez and Ocegueda-Ruiz arrived in Montana, they dropped off an amount of methamphetamine in Butte in the early morning hours and then continued on to Great Falls. Ocegueda Ruiz and Rodriguez checked into a Great Falls hotel and then Ocegueda Ruiz went directly to the Holiday Village mall where he conducted a transaction involving the exchange of guns and drugs. Ocegueda Ruiz went into a local restaurant and was arrested when he came back out. Ocegueda-Ruiz had a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol in his waistband and a loaded 40 caliber pistol in a restaurant take-out bag. He was also carrying about 70 rounds of ammunition. A search of the local hotel room where Ocegueda-Ruiz and Rodriguez had registered upon their arrival in Great Falls yielded another five pounds, more or less, of pure methamphetamine. The street value of the methamphetamine seized by the California Highway Patrol and the Russell Country Drug Task Force was approximately $340,000.
The investigation is a cooperative effort between the Russell Country Drug Task Force which includes law enforcement officers from the Great Falls Police Department, Cascade County Sheriff’s Office, Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Border Patrol, as well as the Havre Police Department, Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, U.S. Internal Revenue Service, California Highway Patrol, and Orange County Sheriff’s Office.