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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Utah

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, May 20, 2019

Operation Rio Grande Drug Task Force Case Leads To 130-Month Sentence For Drug Dealer

SALT LAKE CITY – A defendant charged as a part of an Operation Rio Grande Drug Task Force investigation will spend 130 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.  U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball imposed the sentence in federal court Thursday.

As a part of a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors in February, Christopher Eugene Hooper, aka Messy, age 30, of Kearns, admitted he possessed a Sig .380 handgun with a loaded magazine and approximately 38 grams of methamphetamine.  He admitted he intended to distribute the methamphetamine to another person. 

Hooper was involved in a traffic stop executed by two task force members on Feb. 21, 2018, in the area of North Temple and Redwood Road.  A three-count federal indictment returned in March 2018 charged him with possession of a firearm and ammunition after a felony conviction, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense.  Prosecutors dismissed the second firearm count, carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, at sentencing.

“This is a significant sentence for someone with a long record of felony convictions, including other drug charges, an attempted assault, theft, and assault on a police officer,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said today. “Convicted felon drug traffickers carrying loaded firearms is a recipe for disaster.  Getting these criminals out of our neighborhoods and into federal prison makes our neighborhoods safer for all of us.”  

"The Utah Department of Public Safety is working to reduce violent crime, including situations involving the use of a firearm. These instances pose a threat to public safety,” Captain Jared Garcia of the Utah Department of Public Safety’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) said.

Garcia said members of the Utah Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which includes investigators, intelligence analysts, and crime lab personnel from several local, state and federal agencies, are actively working several cases. “This team approach identifies and stops violent offenders and prevents victimization,” Garcia said.

In another SBI case resulting from Operation Rio Grande, sentencing is set for July 31, 2019, for Tohi Ryan Ngata, aka Leaaetohi Ryan Ngata, aka Toni Ngata-Latu, aka Cuzloc, age 35, of Salt Lake City.  Ngata pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition following a felony conviction and possession of heroin with intent to distribute in April.  Ngata fled from officers attempting to stop him for a moving violation on a bicycle in January 2018. Officers observed that Ngata was reaching toward his waistband. Ngata was detained a short time later.  During a subsequent search, officers found a loaded handgun in his waistband and heroin. Ngata’s plea agreement includes a stipulated sentence of 60 months in federal prison. 

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Violent Crime
Component(s): 
Updated May 20, 2019