Craig Nine suspects facing an assortment of drug possession and distribution charges made their first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in Moffat County Court.
The suspects were among 11 men arrested March 25 in Craig by the All Crimes Enforcement Team on suspicion of operating one of the largest narcotic trafficking operations in Northwest Colorado. Charges were dismissed late last week against two of the men for lack of evidence.
Judge Sandra Gardner scheduled eight of the nine suspects for a preliminary hearing beginning 8 a.m. May 6 in county court. The ninth suspect, who faces slightly different charges than the co-defendants, is scheduled for a status conference at 11 a.m. April 22.
Each of the nine applied for legal representation from the public defender's office, the judge said Wednesday. One of them, the ninth suspect, Edgar Pena-Villava, is being represented by public defender Sheryl Uhlmann.
The judge said she is contacting private attorneys seeking representation for the other defendants and hopes to have defense attorneys assigned to them by the preliminary date.
All nine suspects, most or all of whom are Mexican nationals and believed to be in the U.S. illegally, are being held in Moffat County Jail and have immigration holds. They appeared in court via video-conference from the jail and communicated to the court through an interpreter.
The judge apologized to the suspects for the delay between the Wednesday first appearance and the preliminary date but said the case was unique because it required juggling the schedules of needed interpreters and an assortment of attorneys while protecting the defendants' rights.
Eight of the suspects face the same four felony charges - distribution of a controlled substance, two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell or distribute and conspiracy to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance. The substances are alleged to be between 25 to 450 grams of methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine, according to the charges.
Pena-Villava faces slightly different charges - two counts of distribution of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell or distribute and conspiracy to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance.
Other than acknowledging they understood the proceeding and the charges against them, the suspects made no statements to the judge. One of the men, Abel Gonzalez-Vivanca, asked the judge about bond and claimed he was in the country legally.
Pena-Villava is being held on $1 million bond, Marco Contreras-Alcala $500,000 bond and the remaining men $250,000 bond. Because of the immigration hold, the men would remain in custody, even if bond was posted, the judge said.
A conviction on the charges the suspects face carries a mandatory prison sentence, some of which range between 8 to 16 years and, upon special circumstances, up to a possible 32 years.
Possible fines range from $3,000 to $750,000.
Joshua Roberts can be reached at 875-1791, or firstname.lastname@example.org.