Member of Drug Trafficking Organization that Distributed High Grade Marijuana Throughout New Mexico Sentenced for Hashish Oil Trafficking Conviction
ALBUQUERQUE – Daniel Nieto, 40, of Carlsbad, N.M., was sentenced yesterday afternoon in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to 36 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his conviction on a hashish oil trafficking charge.
Nieto is one of ten defendants charged as the result of a two-year investigation by the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation into a drug trafficking organization led by Enrique Cavazos, 32, of Tijeras, N.M., that distributed high-grade marijuana throughout New Mexico and across the country. The investigation revealed that the Cavazos drug trafficking organization cultivated and purchased high-grade marijuana in California, distributed the marijuana throughout the country, and laundered its drug proceeds through a number of businesses and bank accounts in New Mexico.
Nieto, Enrique Cavazos, his wife Lindsey Cavazos, 33, his father Felix Cavazos, 59, of Albuquerque, Joaquin Alaniz, 41, of Carlsbad, Eliberto Nava, 36, of Madera, Calif., Antonio Ruelas, 32, of Rio Rancho, N.M., and Robert D. Moreno, 38, of Ukiah, Calif., were charged by indictment in Nov. 2015, with marijuana trafficking and money laundering offenses. The indictment charged the co-conspirators with participating in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy that existed from at least Jan. 2008 through Nov. 2015, and operated in the District of New Mexico and elsewhere.
According to court filings, Enrique Cavazos operated a marijuana trafficking business by directing his co-conspirators to purchase large quantities of marijuana in California and distribute the marijuana in New Mexico and other destinations across the country. Lindsey Cavazos was responsible for keeping the books on businesses she and her husband established with proceeds from their marijuana trafficking activities and for the purpose of laundering their drug proceeds. The couple engaged in a money laundering conspiracy and used bank accounts in the names of several of their businesses, including a restaurant and a car dealership, to launder their drug proceeds.
The indictment was superseded in Aug. 2016, to add money laundering charges against three new defendants: Steven Becerra, 62, the owner of the Becerra Group Tax and Accounting Firm in Albuquerque, who previously was employed by the IRS for 18 years; Deborah Gutierrez, 55, who operated Automated Financial Technologies, which is no longer in business; and Glen F. Lucero, 66, a retired school teacher. The superseding indictment also removed Felix Cavazos, Enrique Cavazos’s father who passed away after the original indictment was filed, from the list of defendants.
On May 25, 2017, Nieto pled guilty to one count of possession of hashish oil with intent to distribute. In entering the guilty plea, Nieto admitted that as part of the investigation into his co-defendants, law enforcement officers learned that Nieto had been selling marijuana and hashish oil primarily provided to Nieto by his co-defendants for approximately seven to eight years. Nieto further admitted that during a search of his residence in May 2015, law enforcement officers located approximately two pounds of hashish oil, prescription pills and two firearms. Nieto acknowledged that the hashish oil that was found in his residence was to be distributed to other individuals.
Six of Nieto’s co-defendants have entered guilty pleas, and two have been sentenced. Enrique Cavazos pled guilty on May 24, 2017, and was sentenced on May 9, 2018, to 72 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. Ruelas pled guilty on Sept. 8, 2017, and was sentenced on May 2, 2018, to 30 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. Lindsey A. Cavazos pled guilty on May 24, 2017, Navia pled guilty on May 22, 2018, and Moreno pled guilty on June 12, 2018. Sentencing hearings for these three defendants have yet to be scheduled.
The remaining four defendants, who have entered not guilty pleas to the superseding indictment, are pending trial, which is currently scheduled for July 2018. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The investigation of this case was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a program that 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. It was conducted by the Albuquerque offices of the FBI and IRS Criminal Investigation and the Albuquerque Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer M. Rozzoni, Timothy S. Vasquez and Joel R. Meyers are prosecuting the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kotz is handling the forfeiture matters.