Former Colfax County Sheriff’s Deputy Pleads Guilty to Federal Drug Trafficking and Theft of Government Property Charges
ALBUQUERQUE – Vidal Sandoval, 46, of Cimarron, N.M., pleaded guilty this morning to a superseding indictment charging him with drug trafficking and theft of government property charges. Sandoval was a Deputy of the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department at the time he committed the crimes. The guilty plea was entered without the benefit of a plea agreement.
In announcing the guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez said, “The people of New Mexico must be able to have trust in their law enforcement officials. This case sends a powerful message to the people of Colfax County and all New Mexico residents that the FBI, New Mexico State Police and U.S. Attorney’s Office are vigilant about aggressively rooting out law enforcement corruption and giving New Mexicans confidence that those in uniform will serve them with honesty and integrity.”
“The vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their jobs with integrity and sometimes even heroically, as recent headlines have shown. But when one of them turns bad and endangers the public safety he swore to protect, the FBI and our partners will make sure he is brought to justice,” said Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division. “I would like to thank the FBI Special Agents and professional support staff who worked on this case, as well as the New Mexico State Police and Colfax County Sheriff's Office for their assistance.”
“This case reinforces to those that choose to break the law, that they will suffer the consequences,” said Chief Pete Kassetas of the New Mexico State Police. “When an officer is the one committing crimes, it reflects negatively on all law enforcement officers and it is unacceptable. The cooperation was outstanding and I cannot express my gratitude enough to all the agencies involved. Together, we have made a difference in our state.”
The FBI and the New Mexico State Police arrested Sandoval on March 13, 2015, on an indictment charging him with aiding and abetting an attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute in Colfax County, N.M., on Feb. 28, 2015. The indictment included forfeiture provisions seeking a money judgment in the amount of $17,500, the proceeds Sandoval obtained through his unlawful conduct. The indictment was superseded on April 14, 2015, to add two theft of government property offenses charging Sandoval with stealing money belonging to the FBI on Dec. 15, 2014, and Jan. 25, 2015.
During today’s change of plea hearing, the United States made the following proffer regarding the evidence it would have presented if the case had proceeded to trial:
Sandoval was employed as a deputy sheriff by the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department between Dec. 2014 and Feb. 2015, during which time he received training on how to properly handle evidence. Sandoval knew that he was forbidden to keep money and other property he seized while executing his official duties.
While on duty on Dec. 15, 2014, Sandoval stole money from two motorists whom he believed to be drug traffickers transporting the proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs. After Sandoval found $8,000 in cash in the motorists’ vehicle during a traffic stop, he called Leon Herrera and enlisted him to tell the motorists that he (Herrera) was a law enforcement officer. At the conclusion of the traffic stop, Sandoval retained $7,500 for his personal use and did not turn it into the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department; he returned $500 to the motorists. Sandoval later learned that the cash belonged to the FBI and that the two motorists whom he suspected of being drug traffickers were actually undercover officers.
On Feb. 28, 2015, Sandoval accepted $10,000 in cash to escort a load of illegal drugs through Colfax County into Colorado. Sandoval traveled to Wagon Mound, N.M., in his patrol car and while wearing his uniform, where he met a motorist whom he believed to be a drug trafficker. Sandoval accepted $5,000 from the motorist. During their conversation, the motorist displayed a box containing cocaine and Sandoval understood that the motorist was going to Colorado with the intention of selling the cocaine. After instructing the motorist to drive a few car lengths behind him, Sandoval drove through Colfax County and into Colorado, where he again met with the motorist and received another $5,000. Sandoval retained the $10,000 for his personal use instead of turning it into the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department. Sandoval later learned that the $10,000 belonged to the FBI and that the motorist whom he suspected of being a drug trafficker was actually an undercover officer. Sandoval also learned that the box displayed by the undercover officer contained two kilograms of cocaine and three kilograms of “sham” cocaine
At sentencing, Sandoval faces a statutory mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years in prison on the drug trafficking charge and a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison on each of the two theft of government property charges. His sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.
Herrera, Sandoval’s cohort, was charged in a separate case with falsely impersonating a federal officer. Herrera entered a guilty plea to that charge on Oct. 16, 2015 and was sentenced on Feb. 4, 2016 to a year of probation and was ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.
The two cases were investigated by the Santa Fe and Albuquerque offices of the FBI and the New Mexico State Police with assistance from the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean J. Sullivan is the prosecutor for both cases.