Santa Fe Woman Sentenced to Prison for Federal Oxycodone Trafficking Conviction
Members of Oxycodone Trafficking Ring Prosecuted as Part of HOPE Initiative which Seeks to Reduce the Number of Opioid-Related Deaths in New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Sarah N. Romero, 35, of Santa Fe, N.M., was sentenced in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., this morning to 18 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for her Oxycodone trafficking conviction. Romero is one of five Santa Fe residents charged in Sept. 2013, with participating in an Oxycodone trafficking ring in a 16-count indictment.
Romero and her co-defendants, Ashraf Nassar, 31, Phillip Anaya, 38, Krystal Holmes, 28, and Daniel Trujillo, 32, were arrested as part of a multi-agency law enforcement operation that included the execution of search warrants at three residences and a business in Santa Fe. The investigation, “Operation High Desert Bash,” was initiated in Jan. 2013 by the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad in Albuquerque, N.M., the Santa Fe Police Department and HIDTA Region III Narcotics Task Force in response to the epidemic increase in prescription drug abuse, addiction and overdose deaths in New Mexico, particularly among teens and young adults.
Operation Desert Bash investigation was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) program, a nationwide Department of Justice 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. The investigation primarily targeted a drug trafficking organization unlawfully distributing quantities of Oxycodone in Santa Fe County. Oxycodone is an opioid narcotic pain reliever similar to morphine that is medically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain and can be habit-forming. Officers seized approximately 7300 mg of Oxycodone during the investigation.
Count 1 of the 16-count indictment charged the five defendants with conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone in Santa Fe County between Dec. 2012 and Sept. 2013. Counts 2 through 4 of the indictment charged Nassar, Anaya and Holmes with substantive Oxycodone distribution offenses, and all five defendants were charged with using telephones to facilitate drug trafficking crimes in Counts 5 through 16.
Romero pled guilty on Oct. 28, 2014, to a conspiracy count and admitted her participation in a conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone in the Santa Fe area between Dec. 2012 and Sept. 2013. Romero further admitted that she would frequently receive oxycodone from Nassar which she would then redistribute, and would also supply Nassar with oxycodone which he would redistribute. Romero is responsible for trafficking 6, 240 mg of oxycodone.
Two of Romero’s co-defendants also have entered guilty pleas. Anaya pled guilty on Nov. 19, 2014, and Trujillo pled guilty on Jan. 30, 2015. Each admitted participating in the Oxycodone trafficking conspiracy and admitted receiving Oxycodone from Nassar which they redistributed. Under the terms of their respective plea agreements, Anaya will be sentenced to 46 months in federal prison and Trujillo faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. Both men remain in custody pending sentencing hearings.
Nassar and Holmes have entered pleas of not guilty and are awaiting trial. Charges in indictments are only accusations. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the Tactical Diversion Squad of the DEA’s Albuquerque office, the Santa Fe Police Department and the HIDTA Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shammara H. Henderson and Joel R. Meyers.
DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squads combine DEA resources with those of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an innovative effort to investigate, disrupt and dismantle those suspected of violating the Controlled Substances Act or other appropriate federal, state or local statutes pertaining to the diversion of licit pharmaceutical controlled substances or listed chemicals.
The HIDTA Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force is comprised of officers from the New Mexico State Police, Santa Fe Police Department and Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. It is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program which was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. HIDTA is a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) which provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States and seeks to reduce drug trafficking and production by facilitating coordinated law enforcement activities and information sharing.
This case 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 and opioid trafficking organizations for investigation and prosecution is a priority of the HOPE Initiative.