San Luis man sentenced in ‘ice' meth case
A San Luis, Ariz., man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for trafficking high quality methamphetamine throughout the Southwest.
On Monday, 40-year-old Indalecio Castro-Ponce was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton to 240 months imprisonment and a $3,000 fine.
Castro-Ponce was found guilty by a federal jury on April 12 of one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and two counts of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
A conviction for each charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, a $10 million fine, or both.
A long term investigation into the Castro-Ponce case was conducted by U.S. Customs and Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Yuma, with assistance from colleagues in Fresno, Riverside County, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and Phoenix; the DEA; the FBI; the LA-IMPACT Task Force; the INCA Task Force; and the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.
“It was an investigation targeting a smuggling transportation cell headed by Homeland Security Investigations Yuma Office, which then also included the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST),” said Jay A. Crede, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the ICE-HSI Yuma Office.
There are about 35 BEST units throughout the United States. The BEST unit in Yuma County relies on cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Although the Yuma Sector Border Patrol has succeeded in greatly reducing the amount of illegal drugs coming across the border in recent years, the trafficking of methamphetamines remains “a very big issue here,” Crede said.
Just this week, three U.S. citizens were arrested and about 70 pounds of meth worth more than $1.2 million were seized during separate incidents at the Port of San Luis.
Those arrested in such cases are then turned over to the ICE-HSI Yuma office which is then tasked with determining the origin of the meth, the smuggling operation involved, and the ultimate intended destination of the payload.
It was a similar investigation by ICE-HSI and other law enforcement agencies that led to Castro-Ponce's arrest.
The evidence gathered by law enforcement showed that Castro-Ponce conspired with others to distribute methamphetamine on more than 20 occasions between February and July 2012 to various locations in the Southwestern United States, including Salt Lake City, Utah; Las Vegas, Nev.; Fresno, Calif.; Sunland, Calif.; and Moreno Valley, Calif.
Castro-Ponce frequently brought his children and wife with him on these trips in an attempt to disguise his activities.
Following visits by Castro-Ponce, law enforcement seized more than three pounds of 96 percent pure “ice” methamphetamine from a location in Fresno, Calif., and more than 7 pounds of methamphetamine from a location in Moreno Valley, Calif., along with more than $200,000 cash.
Such pure meth imported from Mexico is now commonplace, Crede said.
“In early years, the meth was what they call a ‘butterscotch' meth. It has a lower purity. But now they have developed a methamphetamine which is referred to as ice, and that has a higher purity level,” commonly within the 90 percentile range.
Those convicted of smuggling high quality meth, such as Castro-Ponce, face stiffer penalties, Crede noted.
“The purer the meth, the more it enhances the sentencing as well.”
Castro-Ponce, a first-time offender, also received sentencing enhancements for having involved his minor children in his drug trafficking activities, being a leader and organizer of a drug trafficking organization, and obstructing justice by committing perjury under oath at trial.
“We place a very high priority on the prosecution of those like Castro-Ponce who cause the ruin of so many lives by spreading the poison of methamphetamine in our communities,” said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo. “We will continue to do all that we can to hold such people accountable for their actions.”
Meth is no longer manufactured in Arizona for the most part, but smuggled into the U.S. by cartels and delivered along drug corridors by smugglers to urban centers across the country.
“As far as our area, we don't see what they refer to as stove top labs, or the portable labs,” Crede said. “That is not to say it isn't a problem within the interior parts of the United States, but as far as along the Southwest border, the majority of the methamphetamine is smuggled into the United States from the Republic of Mexico. They are doing it on mass scales down there.”
ICE-HSI remains committed to disrupting and breaking up such drug smuggling organizations, Crede continued, adding he is pleased law enforcement was able to disrupt Castro-Ponce's scheme.
“I am very proud of my Yuma team” and “the law enforcement support within the communities that participated in this investigation. It takes a lot of coordination, especially when you start working with other agencies when you go into their states.”
Matt Allen, special agent in charge of U.S. Customs and Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Arizona, commended “the dedicated investigative work of HSI special agents and our law enforcement partners in Arizona and across the Western U.S. Thanks to their efforts, this meth trafficker will spend 20 years in federal prison. This strong sentence should serve as a deterrent to those who would seek to profit by bringing dangerous, highly-addictive drugs into our neighborhoods.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.