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Press Release

Lonnie Dean Pleads Guilty To Trafficking Methamphetamine In Valencia County And Assaulting A Federal Officer

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

Plea Agreement Requires Twenty Year Prison Sentence

ALBUQUERQUE – Lonnie Dean, 48, of Belen, N.M., pleaded guilty this morning to methamphetamine trafficking and assault on a federal officer charges under a plea agreement that requires him to serve a 20 year prison sentence. Dean’s guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales, Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit of the El Paso Division of the DEA, and Chief Roy E. Melnick of the Los Lunas Police Department.

Dean was one of twelve individuals from Valencia and Socorro Counties charged with federal methamphetamine trafficking charges in May and June 2011, following a 16-month investigation led by the DEA and the Los Lunas Police Department. The investigation, codenamed “Vanilla Sky,” was pursued under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a nationwide initiative that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated attack against major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.

According to court filings, Dean was part of a large scale methamphetamine trafficking organization that operated in Valencia County, and allegedly was led by Arturo Acosta-Astorga, 53, and Ovidio Estrada, 39, both residents of Los Lunas, N.M. Between March 2010 and May 2011, Acosta-Astorga, Estrada and their co-conspirators allegedly conspired to sell ounce quantities of methamphetamine to undercover DEA agents on at least ten separate occasions. The defendants allegedly sold more than a pound of methamphetamine to the undercover DEA agents during a 14-month period.

During this morning’s proceedings, Dean pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon. In entering his guilty plea, Dean admitted conspiring with others to distribute methamphetamine in Los Lunas and Belen, and assaulting a federal officer as he attempted to avoid arrest.

More specifically, Dean admitted that on May 26, 2011, he drove to a gas station in Belen for the purpose of selling methamphetamine to another person. As Dean was talking to his customer, DEA agents approached Dean and attempted to arrest him. One DEA agent, who had blocked Dean’s car from the front, exited his car and was moving on foot to a better tactical position with his gun and badge drawn, while another DEA agent parked his vehicle behind Dean’s car to block Dean in. Dean admitted that, instead of surrendering, he put his car into reverse and hit the DEA agent’s car causing it to go backward. Dean then put his car into drive and drove forward, missing the DEA agent only because the agent jumped to the side to avoid being struck. Less than a minute later, Dean drove into a road and entered an intersection where he struck a car driven by Roberta Torres, a 40-year-old resident of Belen, who died as a result of the injuries she sustained in the crash.

Dean has been in federal custody since his arrest on May 26, 2011, and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. Dean also faces several state charges, including homicide by vehicle, relating to Ms. Torres’ death in the 13th Judicial District Court for the State of New Mexico. Dean has entered a not guilty plea to the state charges.

Three other defendants have entered guilty pleas in this federal case. Andrew Gilbert Martinez, 30, of Socorro, N.M., pled guilty in Oct. 2011, to using a communication device to facilitate a drug trafficking crime, also known as a “phone count.” Martinez was sentenced in Jan. 2013, to 27 months in prison followed by a year of supervised release. Thanh Vu Huynh, 47, of Los Lunas, pled guilty in April 2012, to three phone counts and remains on conditions of release pending his sentencing hearing. Sylvia Jeanette Sisneros, 51, of Socorro, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and three phone counts in Nov. 2012. Sisneros remains in custody pending her sentencing hearing which is scheduled for April 4, 2013. Acosta-Astorga has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive. The charges against Acosta-Astorga and the defendants who have entered not guilty pleas are merely accusations and they are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case was investigated by the DEA and the Los Lunas Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei.

Updated January 26, 2015