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Press Release

79th Defendant Pleads Guilty and Three More are Sentenced on Federal Charges Arising Out of ATF-Led Operation Targeting Drug Trafficking and Firearms Crime in Bernalillo County

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico
79 of 103 Federal Defendants Charged as the Result of ATF-Led Investigation Pursued in Support of Federal “Worst of the Worst” Anti-Violence Initiative have Pleaded Guilty

ALBUQUERQUE – In Aug. 2016, a multi-agency investigation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) concluded with the filing of 59 federal indictments and a federal criminal complaint charging 103 Bernalillo County residents with federal firearms and narcotics trafficking offenses.  To date, 79 of the 103 defendants charged as the result of this investigation have entered guilty pleas and 44 of them have been sentenced.


The investigation was undertaken in support of a federal anti-violence initiative that targets “the worst of the worst” offenders for federal prosecution.  Under this initiative, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies collaborate with New Mexico’s District Attorneys and state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to target violent or repeat offenders for federal prosecution primarily based on their prior criminal convictions with the goal of removing repeat offenders from communities in New Mexico for as long as possible.


This week, another defendant entered a guilty plea and three other defendants were sentenced on guilty pleas previously entered.      


Albuquerque resident Richard Cortez, 37, entered a guilty plea on Oct. 2, 2017, to a methamphetamine trafficking charge.  Cortez and co-defendants Guajira Maya Lovato, 44, and Daniel Loya, 31, were charged with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine between July 21, 2016 and Aug. 9, 2016, and with distributing methamphetamine on July 21, 2016.  On Oct. 2, 2017, Cortez pled guilty to the distribution charge and admitted distributing 45 grams of methamphetamine to an undercover law enforcement agent on July 21, 2016.    At sentencing, Cortez faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.  He remains detained pending a sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.  Cortez’s co-defendants have entered guilty pleas to methamphetamine trafficking charges and are awaiting sentencing hearings.


Also this week the following three Albuquerque residents were sentenced for their convictions on drug trafficking and firearms offenses:

  • Carlos Vasquez, 47, was sentenced on Oct. 3, 2017, to 120 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release;
  • Candace Tapia also was sentenced on Oct. 3, 2017, to 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release; and
  • Brandon Jason Hunt, 28, was sentenced on Oct 5, 2017, to a year and a day in prison, which he has already served, followed by three years of supervised release.


Vasquez was charged in a three-count indictment filed on June 14, 2016, with distributing cocaine and methamphetamine on May 26, 2016 and with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition on June 1, 2016.  Vasquez was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because he previously had been convicted of aggravated battery on a household member, attempted armed robbery, and abandonment or abuse of a child.  On May 19, 2017, Vasquez pled guilty to possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and admitted that on May 26, 2016, he sold methamphetamine to an individual working with law enforcement.  Vasquez also admitted that on June 1, 2016, he sold a firearm and ammunition to an undercover law enforcement agent.  Vasquez acknowledged that he was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because of his status as a convicted felon.


Candace Tapia and her co-defendants Gaspar Leal, 47, Bernadette Aurora Tapia, 49, and Brandon Candelaria, 22, were charged by indictment on July 12, 2016, with conspiracy and distribution of methamphetamine on June 8, 2016, in Bernalillo County.  On June 1, 2017, Candace Tapia pled guilty to an information charging her with distribution of methamphetamine and admitted that on June 8, 2016, she distributed methamphetamine to another person.  Bernadette Aurora Tapia pled guilty on Dec. 13, 2016, and was sentenced on April 7, 2017.  Lael has entered a plea of not guilty and is pending trial.  The charges against Candelaria have been dismissed.


Hunt was arrested in Oct. 2016, on an indictment charging him with distributing cocaine on May 5, 2016, and June 1, 2016, and with being a felon in possession of a firearm on May 19, 2016.  Hunt was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because of his prior felony convictions for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and attempt to commit an aggravated burglary.  According to the indictment, Hunt committed the offenses in Rio Arriba County, N.M. On July 6, 2017, Hunt pled guilty to distributing cocaine and admitted that on May 5, 2016, he distributed cocaine to an undercover law enforcement agent. 


Twenty-one of the defendants who were charged as the result of the ATF investigation have entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them.  Charges in indictments are merely accusations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.   Two defendants are fugitives and the charges against two defendants have been dismissed.


These cases were investigated by the Albuquerque office of ATF.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Presiliano Torrez is prosecuting Cortez.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Eva Fontanez prosecuted Vasquez.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel A. Hurtado is prosecuting Candace Tapia.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly A. Brawley prosecuted Hunt.

Updated October 6, 2017

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime