Three Charged in Federal Murder, Drug Conspiracy, and Firearm Indictment
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Kyle Leeper, age 36, of Palmyra, Pennsylvania, Ramon Nieves Cotto, age 28, of DeRuyter, New York, and Arlene Rodriguez, age 36, of Montebello, California, were named as defendants Thursday in a federal superseding indictment that includes charges of murder during a drug conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of methamphetamine, possession of 50 or more grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The announcement was made by United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith; James N. Hendricks, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Ray Donovan, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), New York Field Division; Cortland County Sheriff Mark E. Helms; and Barstow, California, Police Chief Albert Ramirez Jr.
The superseding indictment charges Kyle Leeper, aided and abetted by Ramon Nieves Cotto, with shooting and killing Robert Chavez on January 17, 2019, while engaging in a drug trafficking conspiracy involving 50 or more grams of methamphetamine. Also charged with drug conspiracy is Arlene Rodriguez. The indictment also charges Leeper and Rodriguez with possessing with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of methamphetamine on January 19, 2019, in Cortland County, New York. All three defendants also are charged, either as principals, accomplices, or co-conspirators, with using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to drug trafficking crimes, with Kyle Leeper further charged with discharging that firearm and murdering Chavez, and Ramon Nieves Cotto charged with aiding and abetting those crimes. Kyle Leeper also is charged with possession of a firearm as a felon on that same day.
If convicted of committing murder during a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, Kyle Leeper and Ramon Nieves Cotto face a minimum sentence of 20 years, and a maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment, or a sentence of death. For the charge of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of methamphetamine, Kyle Leeper, Ramon Nieves Cotto and Arlene Rodriguez face a minimum of 10 years and a maximum sentence of up to life in prison, a fine of up to $10 million and a term of supervised release of at least 5 years and up to life. Kyle Leeper and Arlene Rodriguez face those same penalties on the charge of possessing with intent to distribute 50 or more grams of methamphetamine. On the charge of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime, Arlene Rodriguez faces a sentence of 5 years to life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and a 5-year supervised release term; based on additional allegations against them of discharge of the firearm and murder, for this charge Kyle Leeper and Ramon Nieves Cotto each face sentences of 10 years to life imprisonment, or death, a fine of $250,000, and a 5-year supervised release term. Kyle Leeper could be sentenced for up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000.00 and up to a 3-year term of supervised release if convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The charges in the superseding indictment are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Ramon Nieves Cotto was arrested and arraigned yesterday in Syracuse, before United States Magistrate Judge Andrew Baxter, and was ordered detained pending a bail hearing. Kyle Leeper and Arlene Rodriguez have been detained in federal custody since August 2019, when they were charged in an earlier federal indictment that alleged drug and firearms charges only. Kyle Leeper and Arlene Rodriguez were first arrested on January 19, 2019, by members of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office. New York State Penal Law charges for possession of methamphetamine and firearms possession stemming from those arrests have been dismissed following the federal indictments.
This case is being investigated by the FBI, the DEA, the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office, and the City of Barstow, California Police Department, with assistance from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the New York State Police, the Cortland County (New York) District Attorney’s Office, and the San Bernardino County (California) District Attorney’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven D. Clymer, Richard R. Southwick, and Thomas R. Sutcliffe.