Rio Rancho Man Sentenced for Conviction on Federal Marijuana Trafficking Charge
Defendant was Member of New Mexico-Based Marijuana Trafficking Organization
ALBUQUERQUE – Antonio Ruelas, 32, of Rio Rancho, N.M., was sentenced late yesterday afternoon in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to 30 months of imprisonment based on his previously entered guilty plea to a marijuana trafficking conspiracy charge. Ruelas will be on supervised release for three years after completing his prison sentence.
Ruelas 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.
Ruelas, Enrique Cavazos, his wife Lindsey Cavazos, 33, his father Felix Cavazos, 59, of Albuquerque, Joaquin Alaniz, 41, and Daniel Nieto, 30, both of Carlsbad, N.M., Eliberto Nava, 36, of Madera, Calif., and Robert Moreno, 38, of 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The indictment was superseded in Aug. 2016, to add money laundering charges against three new defendants: Steven Becerra, 62, the owner of the Becerra Group Tax and Accounting Firm in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.
Enrique Cavazos pled guilty on May 24, 2017, to marijuana trafficking and money laundering charges under a plea agreement that recommended a sentence within the range of 48 to 120 months of imprisonment. Lindsey Cavazos also pled guilty on May 24, 2017, to a money laundering charge under a plea agreement that recommends a sentence of a five-year term of probation. The Cavazos’ plea agreements require the couple to forfeit the proceeds of their drug trafficking and money laundering activities, including real estate, vehicles, cash, weapons, and jewelry, which are valued at more than $1,883,500. The Cavazos are scheduled for sentencing on May 9, 2018.
Nieto pled guilty on May 25, 2017, to possessing hashish oil with intent to distribute. Nieto’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 24, 2018.
The remaining six defendants, who have entered not guilty pleas to the superseding indictment, are pending trial, which has yet to be scheduled. 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. 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.