ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge Kyle W. Williamson of the DEA’s El Paso Division, and Chief Patrol Agent Aaron A. Hull of the U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector announced that a Mexican national has pleaded guilty to heroin and fentanyl trafficking charges. Roberto Esmerardo Lopez-Gaxiola, 35, pled guilty yesterday in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., to charges arising out of the seizure of more than nine pounds of heroin and more than a pound of fentanyl at a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in southern New Mexico in March 2018.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Lopez-Gaxiola on March 14, 2018, after seizing approximately 4.2 kilograms (9.25 pounds) of heroin and 661.6 grams (1.46 pounds) of fentanyl concealed in Lopez-Gaxiola’s vehicle. According to the criminal complaint, the agents found the heroin and fentanyl in Lopez-Gaxiola’s vehicle during an inspection at the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint located on Interstate 25 north of Las Cruces near Truth or Consequences, N.M., in Sierra County, N.M.
During yesterday’s change of plea hearing, Lopez-Gaxiola pled guilty to a felony information charging him with possession of heroin and fentanyl with intent to distribute. In entering the guilty plea, Lopez-Gaxiola admitted that on March 14, 2018, U.S. Border Patrol agents found seven bundles containing approximately 4.2 kilograms of heroin and six bundles containing approximately 641.25 grams of fentanyl concealed in his vehicle during a routine inspection. Lopez-Gaxiola admitted that he intended to deliver the drugs to others in Albuquerque, N.M., in exchange for payment.
At sentencing, Lopez-Gaxiola faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of ten years and a maximum of life in federal prison. He remains in custody pending a sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Border Patrol and the Las Cruces Office of the DEA. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Joni Autrey of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office is prosecuting 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.