21 Apr 2017
- By Neil Pang - firstname.lastname@example.org - For Variety
HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood sentenced one drug “kingpin” to a lifetime in prison and his major partner to 24 years behind bars in a massive meth distribution scheme.
Francisco Arias, a 42-year-old Mexican national who has resided illegally in southern California and Nevada for several years, will serve life in prison. He was indicted in 2014 for conspiracy to distribute meth, conspiracy to commit money laundering and unlawful use of the mail to facilitate the meth distribution.
Eder Cortez-Zelaya, a 34-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from El Salvador, was sentenced to 24 years for his part in the same drug ring.
According to the chief judge, Arias and Cortez-Zelaya were the two main organizers in the scheme that used the U.S. mail system between 2010 to 2014 to send packages containing meth to Guam, where their 15 co-defendants sold the drugs and then sent the profits to Arias. All the other 15 co-defendants have been sentenced.
Arias and Cortez-Zelaya were found guilty of all charges by a jury trial in November 2014. Court documents indicate the sentencings were delayed due, in part, to proceedings of other defendants named in the same case, as well a Spanish interpreter’s availability.
Before issuing her decision on the matter, Tydingco-Gatewood heard testimony from Norman Concepcion, a Guam resident who agreed to sell drugs for Arias to pay off his nephew’s drug debt.
Concepcion told the court his nephew felt his life was in danger, so he struck a deal with Arias to settle the debt to protect his nephew. Based on Concepcion’s testimony, the chief judge said the court found Arias had made a credible threat against the life of Concepcion’s nephew.
Although Arias’ background shows he was previously deported from the United States after immigration officials discovered he entered the country illegally from Mexico, the court confirmed he has no prior convictions.
Court documents state local and federal authorities managed to intercept multiple packages arriving from Nevada to Guam containing a total combined weight of approximately 616 grams of meth, with an estimated street value of more than $300,000. Law enforcement authorities also tracked multiple bank and wire transfers between Arias and Cortez-Zelaya’s Guam co-defendants and themselves, amounting to roughly $310,000.
Tydingco-Gatewood sentenced Arias to life imprisonment for the charge of conspiracy to distribute meth and a combined 25 years for the other charges, as well as eight years’ supervised release and a $400 special assessment. Arias received credit for serving three years behind bars.
Both the judge, U.S. Probation Office representative and the prosecutor agreed the sentence was fair and reflected the seriousness of Arias’ crime. Arias received life imprisonment partly because he did not exhibit acceptance of responsibility for his actions.
“He’s just left a trail of destruction in this community,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Clyde Lemons said.
Lemons added that the money and drugs federal authorities were able to seize did not account for all the meth Arias and Cortez-Zelaya helped to send to Guam.
Their actions had left a “string of broken bodies, families and communities” while the two “hung out” in a nice house in Las Vegas, enjoying the profits of their illegal enterprise from miles away, Lemons said.
Tydingco-Gatewood said the money authorities were able to seize counted for “just the tip of the iceberg” and that Arias and Cortez-Zelaya’s scheme likely affected hundreds, if not thousands, of lives in Guam.
Speaking through an interpreter, Arias apologized to the court for his actions and said he is “not a bad person” and that he is a family man with a wife and three children whom he hoped to see again.
Arias was remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, which will detain him until he can be transferred to a federal Bureau of Prisons facility — possibly in San Diego where he requested to be placed in order to be near his family.