Member of Bernalillo County-Based Drug Trafficking Ring Pleads Guilty to Federal Heroin Trafficking Charge
Defendant Prosecuted as Part of HOPE Initiative Which Seeks to Reduce the Number of Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Clayton Arellano, 39, of Albuquerque, N.M., who was charged as the result of a DEA-led investigation targeting a Bernalillo County-based drug trafficking organization that distributed heroin and methamphetamine in the Albuquerque-area, pled guilty yesterday in federal court to a heroin trafficking charge.
Clayton Arellano’s co-defendant Orlando Romero, 30, also a resident of Albuquerque, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Aug. 2016, with five counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute and one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The complaint alleged that Romero committed the offenses between Oct. 26, 2015 and June 7, 2016 in Bernalillo County, N.M. Romero subsequently was charged in a six-count indictment filed on Sept. 13, 2016, with heroin and methamphetamine trafficking offenses.
In Dec. 2016, the indictment was superseded to add three co-defendants, including Clayton Arellano, and two additional charges. The superseding indictment charged Romero, Clayton Arellano, Bart Arellano, 36, and Clayton Arellano, Jr., 20, all residents of Albuquerque, with conspiring to distribute heroin from Jan. 2015 through Dec. 2015, in Bernalillo County. It also charged Romero with distributing heroin on five occasions between Oct. 2015 and April 2016, and with distributing heroin and methamphetamine in June 2016, and Clayton Arellano and Clayton Arellano, Jr., with possession of heroin with intent to distribute in July 2016. The superseding indictment charged the defendants with committing the offenses in Bernalillo County.
During yesterday’s proceedings, Clayton Arellano pled guilty to possession of heroin with intent to distribute. In entering the guilty plea, Clayton Arellano admitted that from Jan. 20, 2015 until his arrest in Dec. 2016, he conspired with others to purchase bulk quantities of heroin, store the heroin in stash locations, and distribute the heroin to others. Clayton Arellano also admitted regularly using his cellular phone to arrange for the supply and distribution of heroin to other distributors and drug users in Albuquerque, and that he subsequently learned that law enforcement authorities intercepted his communications pursuant to court orders.
According to the plea agreement, law enforcement authorities intercepted various calls and text messages between Clayton Arellano and individuals interested in buying drugs from Clayton Arellano on multiple occasions from May 2016 through July 2016, during which they discussed the locations, distribution and sale of heroin using coded language. Clayton Arellano acknowledged that during the course of the conspiracy, he was responsible for possessing more than 100 grams of heroin with the intention of distributing the heroin to others.
At sentencing, Clayton Arellano faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of five years and a maximum of 40 years in federal prison. A sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Clayton Arellano’s three co-defendants have entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them and are awaiting trial. Charges in criminal complaints and indictments are merely accusations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque office of the DEA as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) program, which combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristopher N. Houghton and Joel R. Meyers are prosecuting this 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.