Former Deputy Sheriff in Colfax County sentenced to 87 months in federal prison for drug trafficking and theft of government property
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Honorable Judith C. Herrera, Senior United States District Judge, sentenced Vidal Sandoval, 50, of Cimarron, New Mexico, to 87 months in federal prison today for drug trafficking and theft of government property committed while Sandoval was a deputy sheriff in Colfax County, New Mexico.
In announcing the sentence, United States Attorney John C. Anderson said, “The defendant’s offenses represent a profound breach of a sacred public trust. The people of Colfax County entrusted defendant with the authority to enforce the laws and the responsibility to keep the public safe. The defendant turned around and used this authority to foster and facilitate the very type of crime he was sworn to prevent. In a day and age when service as a law enforcement officer is more challenging than ever, we will and we must ensure the integrity of law enforcement by holding accountable those few officers who betray the public trust for their personal gain.”
“When law enforcement officers betray the communities they swore to protect, it overshadows the heroic work the majority of police, deputies, and agents perform on a daily basis,” said Special Agent in Charge James C. Langenberg of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division. “The FBI, working with partners like the New Mexico State Police and Colfax County Sheriff's Office, will pursue anyone who dishonors the badge and puts the public at risk.”
“I am proud of the role we played in identifying this defendant’s criminal behavior and holding him accountable,” said Tim Johnson, Chief of the New Mexico State Police. “His actions were an egregious violation of public trust. Thorough investigation and continuing cooperation between agencies again yielded just results.”
Sandoval pleaded guilty on July 13, 2016, to one count of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine and two counts of theft of government property. Sandoval did not enter into a plea agreement with the prosecution. According to public court records and statements made in court, Sandoval was employed as a deputy sheriff when he committed the charged offenses. He received training in how to properly handle evidence. Sandoval knew 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 a friend, Leon Herrera, and enlisted Herrera to tell the motorists that 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 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, New Mexico 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.
Sandoval must serve four years of supervised release following his term of imprisonment. He must also forfeit $19,500 in proceeds from his crimes.
The FBI investigated this case with the New Mexico State Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean J. Sullivan prosecuted the case.