Santa Fe Man Pleads Guilty to Heroin Trafficking and Firearms Charges
Lovato Prosecuted Under Federal “Worst of the Worst” Anti-Violence Initiative and HOPE Initiative which Seeks to Reduce Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Phillip Lovato, 30, of Santa Fe, N.M., pled guilty this morning in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., to heroin trafficking and firearms charges, announced U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division, and New Mexico State Police Lt. Scott McFaul, the Commander of the HIDTA Region III Drug Task Force.
Lovato was arrested by the FBI on Feb. 10, 2015, on a criminal complaint charging him with distributing heroin, possessing heroin with intent to distribute, using and carrying firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes, and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. According to the criminal complaint, Lovato sold heroin to a person working with law enforcement on Oct. 23, 2014 and Nov. 4, 2014. It also alleged that Lovato unlawfully possessed more than 40 grams of heroin and a firearm on Nov. 17, 2014, and more than 670 grams of heroin on Feb. 6, 2015. It also charged him with being a felon in possession of firearm on Feb. 10, 2015.
On Feb. 25, 2015, a federal grand jury returned a seven-count indictment against Lovato charging him with two counts of distributing heroin, two counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, two counts of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, and one count of using and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crimes. According to the indictment, Lovato committed these crimes in Santa Fe County.
Today Lovato entered guilty pleas to two counts of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. In his plea agreement, Lovato admitted selling heroin from a residence on Alta Vista Street in Santa Fe on Nov. 17, 2014. On that day, Lovato was carrying a black backpack which contained heroin and a semi-automatic pistol that he used to protect the drugs he was carrying and the proceeds from his drug sales. Lovato admitted that after completing several drug transactions at the Alta Vista Street residence, he got into a pickup truck to go to another location where he intended to continue selling heroin. When the truck was stopped by law enforcement officers, Lovato admitted that he had heroin in the truck, and the officers seized 40 grams of heroin and the semi-automatic pistol from Lovato’s backpack.
Lovato admitted in his plea agreement that he subsequently acquired another firearm and additional heroin and resumed selling heroin in and around Santa Fe, storing his heroin and cash proceeds in a storage facility in Santa Fe. On Feb. 6, 2015, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on the storage facility where they seized 665 grams of heroin and $49,242 in proceeds from Lovato’s heroin deals.
Lovato was arrested on Feb. 10, 2015, outside a residence in Santa Fe. Lovato admitted that before his arrest, he left a semi-automatic handgun inside the residence. Following Lovato’s arrest, law enforcement officers seized the handgun when they executed a consensual search of the residence. Lovato acknowledged knowing that he was prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition because of his status as a convicted felon.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Lovato will be sentenced to ten years in federal prison to be followed by at least four years of supervised release. The plea agreement also requires Lovato to forfeit the two firearms seized from him during the investigation of the case. He also must forfeit the $49,242 seized from his storage unit in Feb. 2016. Lovato remains in federal custody pending his sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled.
This case was investigated by the Santa Fe office of the FBI and the HIDTA Region III Drug Task Force, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy S. Vasquez.
The HIDTA – High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area – Program is a program of the White House Office National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) that facilitates cooperation among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement to foster intelligence sharing and to support the execution of effective enforcement operations aimed at dismantling drug trafficking organization in critical drug trafficking regions of the United States. The HIDTA Region III Narcotics Task Force is comprised of the New Mexico State Police, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and the Santa Fe Police Department.
Lovato, who has two prior drug trafficking convictions and an aggravated assault conviction, is being prosecuted as part of a federal anti-violence initiative that targets “the worst of the worst” offenders for federal prosecution. Under this initiative, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies work with New Mexico’s District Attorneys and state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to target violent or repeat offenders primarily based on their prior convictions for federal prosecution with the goal of removing repeat offenders from communities in New Mexico for as long as possible. Because New Mexico’s violent crime rates, on a per capita basis, are amongst the highest in the nation, New Mexico’s law enforcement community is collaborating to target repeat offenders from counties with the highest violent crime rates, including Santa Fe County, under this initiative.
This case also is being prosecuted pursuant to the New Mexico Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative. The HOPE Initiative is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center that is partnering with the Bernalillo County Opioid Accountability Initiative with the overriding goal of reducing the number of opioid-related deaths in the District of New Mexico. The HOPE Initiative comprised of five components: (1) prevention and education; (2) treatment; (3) law enforcement; (4) reentry; and (5) strategic planning. The law enforcement component of the HOPE Initiative 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 trafficking organizations for investigation and prosecution is a priority of the HOPE Initiative.