Craig A 29-year-old man convicted of methamphetamine distribution apologized and asked for leniency Tuesday afternoon in Moffat County District Court. It wasn't enough to keep a judge from handing down a lengthy prison sentence.
"Methamphetamine is an extremely insidious drug in this community," Judge Sandra Gardner told Edgar Pena-Villava, a leader of a local organized drug cartel. "It destroys not only individuals, but also families."
For drug distributors, the judge said, "the focus of this court is no longer rehabilitation, but it is punishment."
As part of a plea agreement with the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office, Pena-Villava pleaded guilty Aug. 19 to three Class 3 felonies - two counts of distribution of a schedule 2 controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute.
Convictions on the three charges require a minimum four years in prison.
After hearing arguments from Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Snow and public defender Sheryl Uhlmann, Gardner sentenced Pena-Villava to 10 years in prison, five years of probation and $9,945 in fines, fees and costs.
The sentence wasn't what either side requested. Snow sought the 12-year maximum under the plea agreement, while Uhlmann requested her client be sentenced to four to six years.
Pena-Villava, a Veracruz, Mexico, native and in the United States illegally, was one of several suspects arrested by the All Crimes Enforcement Team in March on suspicion of operating one of the largest drug distribution networks in Northwest Colorado.
Through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, Pena-Villava gave a statement to the court. He said he'd been selling drugs for a short time and only because he couldn't find work and needed to support his parents in Mexico.
However, he said, he soon realized that selling drugs was "not the right path," and that by doing so, he was "damaging lots of people."
Uhlmann said Pena-Villava has no criminal history and that he resorted to selling drugs out of financial need.
"Essentially, he was in a pretty desperate financial state," the public defender said. She added, "He wasn't doing it to earn some huge windfall profit."
Snow countered the defense's claims.
He said facts of the case, namely that the two times Pena-Villava sold to an ACET confidential source the drugs were more than 50 grams each time, contradicted the defendant's assertion that he was a bit player in the drug trade.
"That's ludicrous," he said. "The defendant is deceptive. The court knows that from the facts before it. : He was selling very large quantities."
That Pena-Villava was part of an organized effort to sell drugs, and that he spoke with the confidential source about the possibility of purchasing three varying calibers of handguns to "enforce that trade," also indicated he was more involved than he claimed, Snow said.
Gardner said she had given the case "careful consideration" leading up to Tuesday's hearing. She said she was not persuaded by Pena-Villava's claims about his involvement.
Gardner, normally the Moffat County Court judge, said she often sees drug offenders in the local court system on their first appearance. It appeared to the court, she said, that ACET's arrest of the suspects "slowed the (local) methamphetamine trade for a period of time."
The judge said she took this as a sign that Pena-Villava was "more involved" in drug distribution than he represented Tuesday, and that the offenses required a "significant consequence."