Skip to main content
Press Release

Inmate at Sandoval County Detention Center Sentenced to Federal Prison for Trafficking Heroin While Incarcerated

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Mexico
Defendant Prosecuted as Part of HOPE Initiative Which Seeks to Reduce the Number of Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE – Ismael Vargas, 30, of Belen, N.M., was sentenced today in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to 41 months in prison followed by four years of supervised release for his heroin trafficking conviction.  At the time he committed the offense, Vargas was an inmate at the Sandoval County Detention Center.

 In Jan. 2016, the DEA arrested Christopher Gonzales, 22, of Albuquerque, N.M., and Fabrienne Rosalinda Morales, 41, of Peralta, N.M., on a five-count indictment.  At the time, Gonzales was a corrections officer at Sandoval County Detention Center.  The indictment charged Gonzales and Morales with conspiracy.  It also charged Gonzales with possession of heroin and Suboxone with intent to distribute, and Morales with distributing heroin and Suboxone.  The indictment was superseded on Feb. 9, 2016, to add Vargas, to the conspiracy charge.  According to the superseding indictment, the defendants committed the crimes on Aug. 2, 2015, in Sandoval County, N.M.

On March 9, 2017, Vargas pled guilty to Count 1 of the superseding indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute heroin.  In entering the guilty plea, Vargas admitted that on Aug. 2, 2015, while he was an inmate at the Sandoval County Detention Center, he arranged for heroin to be delivered to the jail.  Vargas also admitted that he facilitated the payment of money to a corrections officer to get the heroin into the jail. 

On Feb. 28, 2017, Gonzales pled guilty to possessing heroin with intent to distribute.  In entering his guilty plea, Gonzales admitted that on Aug. 2, 2015, while he was working as an officer at the Sandoval County Detention Center, he brought heroin to the Detention Center with the intention of delivering it to an inmate.  Gonzales was sentenced to a five-year term of probation on May 31, 2017.  Additionally, Gonzales’ employment as a corrections officer was terminated after he was charged in his case.

On Jan. 13, 2017, Morales pled guilty to distributing heroin.  In entering the guilty plea, Morales admitted that on Aug. 2, 2015, she smuggled heroin into the Sandoval County Detention Center and gave it to a corrections officer.  Morales was sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release on April 17, 2017.

 This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the DEA.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard R. Thomas prosecuted the case as part of the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative.  The HOPE Initiative was launched in January 2015 by the UNM Health Sciences Center and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in response to the national opioid epidemic, which has had a disproportionately devastating impact on New Mexico.  Opioid addiction has taken a toll on public safety, public health and the economic viability of our communities.  Working in partnership with the DEA, the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative, Healing Addiction in our Community (HAC), the Albuquerque Public Schools and other community stakeholders, HOPE’s principal goals are to protect our communities from the dangers associated with heroin and opioid painkillers and reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in New Mexico. 

The HOPE Initiative is comprised of five components:  (1) prevention and education; (2) treatment; (3) law enforcement; (4) reentry; and (5) strategic planning.  HOPE’s law enforcement component is led by the Organized Crime Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DEA in conjunction with their federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners.  Targeting members of major heroin and opioid trafficking organizations for investigation and prosecution is a priority of the HOPE Initiative.  Learn more about the New Mexico HOPE Initiative at

Updated May 1, 2018

Drug Trafficking
Prescription Drugs