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Press Release

Eighth Member of Southeastern New Mexico Drug Trafficking Organization Pleads Guilty to Drug Trafficking and Firearms Offenses

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – Robert C. Ponce, 43, of Carlsbad, N.M., pled guilty today in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., to drug trafficking and firearms offenses.  Ponce is the eighth of the ten defendants charged as the result of a multi-agency investigation into a criminal organization that was trafficking large quantities of methamphetamine and firearms in southeastern New Mexico to plead guilty. 

The investigation initiated by the DEA, ATF and the HIDTA Region VI Pecos Valley Drug Task Force and initially targeted a methamphetamine trafficking organization operating in southeastern New Mexico that was supplied by Daniel P. Bruton, 39, of Artesia, N.M., and Marcos A. Martinez, 31, of Roswell, N.M.  The investigative team quickly expanded to include HSI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, the New Mexico State Police, the Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force, and the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office, and the investigative targets expanded to include other drug traffickers in Eddy and Chaves Counties.  The investigation was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a Department of Justice program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.  During the investigation, law enforcement authorities seized more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine and 44 firearms.

Ponce, Bruton and Martinez were charged along with seven other co-defendants in a 34-count indictment filed on Oct. 3, 2017.  The indictment alleged that Martinez, Bruton and their co-defendants conspired to violate the federal narcotics trafficking and firearms laws from May 2017 through Oct. 2017 in Eddy and Chaves Counties and elsewhere in New Mexico.  The indictment includes 55 overt acts that discussed the conspiracy’s operations, including the quantities of methamphetamine, ranging from multiple ounces to five pounds, allegedly distributed by the defendants on a routine basis.  It also describes the firearms, including assault rifles that allegedly were to be smuggled into Mexico, allegedly used by the defendants in relation to their drug trafficking activities. 

During today’s proceedings, Ponce pled guilty to conspiracy, use of a communication facility to further the commission of a drug trafficking crime, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and being a felon in possession of a firearm.  In entering the guilty plea, Ponce admitted that during July 2017, he conspired with his co-defendants to distribute methamphetamine in Eddy County.  Ponce further admitted that on July 28, 2017, he was in possession of approximately two ounces of methamphetamine and a loaded firearm located in his vehicle when he fled from law enforcement officers.  Ponce admitted that if the methamphetamine had not been seized by law enforcement, it was his intention to distribute the methamphetamine to other individuals.  Ponce acknowledged that he was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition in July 2017, because of his prior felony convictions for possession of a controlled substance, being a felon in possession of a firearm, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and forgery.

At sentencing, Ponce faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of five years and a maximum of 40 years in federal prison.

Seven of Ponce’s co-defendants have entered guilty pleas and three have been sentenced:  Chelcy A. Vasquez, 26, of Dexter, N.M., pled guilty on Feb. 5, 2018, and was sentenced on July 18, 2018; Erick L. Miranda-Santos, 22, of Artesia pled guilty on April 5, 2018, and was sentenced on Sept. 18, 2018; Kenneth R. Dickerson, 57, of Carlsbad, pled guilty on June 27, 2018, and was sentenced on Sept. 6, 2018; Isela Hernandez, 27, of Roswell pled guilty on April 16, 2018; Martinez pled guilty on June 14, 2018; Linda M. Watts, 28, of Carlsbad pled guilty on June 20, 2018; and Burton pled guilty on July 6, 2018. 

Sentencing hearings for Ponce, Burton, Martinez, Watts and Hernandez have yet to be scheduled.

Two co-defendants, Jerry O. Twaddle, 38, and Ethan G. Watts, 28, both of Carlsbad, have entered pleas of not guilty to the charges against them.  Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are only accusations.  Defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

These cases were investigated by the DEA, ATF, HSI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, the New Mexico State Police, the HIDTA Region VI Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, the HIDTA Region VI Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force, and the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Clara N. Cobos and Renee L. Camacho of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office are prosecuting the cases filed as the result of the investigation.

The Pecos Valley Drug Task Force is comprised of officers from the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office, Carlsbad Police Department and Artesia Police Department and is part of the HIDTA Region VI Drug Task Force.  The HIDTA Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force is comprised of investigators from the Roswell Police Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and the Chaves County Sherriff’s Office.  The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988.  HIDTA is a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) which provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States and seeks to reduce drug trafficking and production by facilitating coordinated law enforcement activities and information sharing.

Updated October 4, 2018

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses