Federal Jury Convicts Albuquerque Resident on Drug Trafficking Charges Arising Out of ATF-Led Operation Targeting Drug Trafficking and Firearms Crime in Bernalillo County
Defendant among the 103 Individuals Federally Charged as the Result of ATF-Led
ALBUQUERQUE – A federal jury sitting in Albuquerque, N.M., returned a verdict yesterday afternoon finding Gaspar Leal, 47, guilty of participating in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy after a three-day trial, announced Acting U.S. Attorney James D. Tierney and Special Agent in Charge John J. Durastanti of the Phoenix Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
In Aug. 2016, a multi-agency investigation led by the ATF concluded with the filing of 59 federal indictments and a federal criminal complaint charging 103 Bernalillo County residents, including Leal, with federal firearms and narcotics trafficking offenses. To date, 81 of the 103 defendants charged as the result of this investigation have been convicted, including 80 who have pleaded guilty, and 52 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, in addition to the guilty verdict against Leal, two other Albuquerque residents were sentenced for their convictions on federal firearms and drug trafficking offenses.
Guilty Verdict in Trial against Gaspar Leal
Leal and co-defendants Candace Tapia, 23, 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. Bernadette Aurora Tapia pled guilty on Dec. 13, 2016, and was sentenced to 21 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release on April 7, 2017. Candace Tapia pled guilty on June 1, 2017, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release on Oct. 3, 2017. The charges against Candelaria were dismissed on July 18, 2017.
Trial against Leal on the two-count indictment commenced on Dec. 4, 2017, and concluded the afternoon of Dec. 6, 2017, when the jury convicted Leal on Count 1, charging Leal with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and acquitting him on Count 2, charging him with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The evidence at trial established that in May and June 2016, Leal facilitated the sale of approximately 59.2 grams of methamphetamine to an individual working with the ATF. The jury deliberated approximately three-and-a-half hours before returning its verdict.
At sentencing, Leal faces a mandatory minimum penalty of five years and a maximum of 40 years in federal prison. Leal has been in federal custody since his arrest and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
United States v. Noe Urias, et al.
Noe Urias and co-defendant Angelica Marie Santiesteban, 40, were charged in a four-count indictment filed on June 30, 2016, with methamphetamine trafficking offenses. The indictment was superseded on July 28, 2016, to include Patrick Zamora, 22, and an additional methamphetamine trafficking charge. The superseding indictment charged all three defendants with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine from May 2, 2016 through June 20, 2016, and distribution of methamphetamine on June 20, 2016; Urias and Santiesteban with distribution of methamphetamine on May 2, 2016 and May 19, 2016; and Urias with distribution of methamphetamine on May 18, 2016.
On March 9, 2017, Urias pled guilty to Count 3 of the superseding indictment charging him with distribution of methamphetamine and admitted that on May 18, 2016, he sold methamphetamine in exchange for money. Santiesteban pled guilty on Dec. 8, 2016, and was sentenced to 63 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release on June 27, 2017.
Noe Urias, 35, was sentenced on Dec. 6, 2017, to 41 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his methamphetamine trafficking conviction.
Zamora has entered a plea of not guilty and is pending trial.
United States v. Jorge Chacon
Jorge Chacon was charged in a seven-count indictment filed on June 30, 2016, with drug trafficking and firearms offenses. Chacon was charged with distributing methamphetamine and using and carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime on May 16, 2016; being a felon in possession of a firearm on May 16, 2016, May 19, 2016, and twice on May 26, 2016; and possession a firearm with an obliterated serial number on May 26, 2016. According to the indictment, Chacon was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because he previously been convicted of burglary, aggravated battery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
On Feb. 13, 2017, Chacon pled guilty to Count 2 of the indictment charging him with carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime, and admitted that on May 16, 2016, he possessed a firearm during the sale of methamphetamine. Chacon, 34, was sentenced on Dec. 6, 2017, to 60 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
Nineteen of the defendants charged as the result of the ATF investigation have entered not guilty pleas or have been found guilty 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. The case against Leal is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Samuel A. Hurtado and Kimberly A. Brawley. The case against Urias is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Han. The case against Chacon was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Cairns.