SEP 26 (ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) – Five residents of Santa Fe, N.M., were arrested earlier today based on a 16-count federal indictment charging them with Oxycodone trafficking offenses. Two other Santa Fe residents were arrested on federal marijuana trafficking charges and another individual was arrested on state narcotics trafficking charges.
The arrests were announced by Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit of the DEA’s El Paso Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough, First Judicial District Attorney Angela R. Pacheco , Chief Raymond J. Rael of the Santa Fe Police Department, and New Mexico State Police Lieutenant W. Troy Weisler, Commander of the HIDTA Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Today’s arrests were part of a multi-agency law enforcement operation that included the execution of federal search warrants at three residences and a business in Santa Fe. The charges against the defendants are the result of “Operation High Desert Bash,” an investigation initiated in Jan. 2013 by the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad in Albuquerque, the Santa Fe Police Department and HIDTA Region III Narcotics Task Force in response to the epidemic increase in prescription drug abuse, addiction and overdose deaths in New Mexico, particularly among teens and young adults. Operation High Desert Bash primarily targeted a drug trafficking organization unlawfully distributing quantities of Oxycodone in Santa Fe County. Oxycodone is an opioid narcotic pain reliever similar to morphine that is medically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain and can be habit-forming.
Ashraf Nassar, 30, Phillip Anaya, 37, Krystal Holmes, 27, Sarah N. Romero, 34, and Daniel Trujillo, 31, are charged in Count 1 of a 16-count indictment with conspiracy to distribute Oxycodone in Santa Fe County between Dec. 2012 and Sept. 2013. Counts 2 through 4 of the indictment charge Nassar, Anaya and Holmes with substantive Oxycodone distribution offenses, and all five defendants are charged with using telephones to facilitate drug trafficking crimes (commonly referred to as “phone counts”) in Counts 5 through 16. If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine on each of the Oxycodone charges and a maximum penalty of four years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the phone counts. All five are scheduled to make their initial appearances in Albuquerque federal court tomorrow morning.
Clarence Cline, 64, and Stephanie DeStefano, 52, are charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to cultivate marijuana. According to the complaint, Cline and DeStefano were arrested after officers found approximately 277 marijuana plants and 6.6 kilograms of marijuana that was being prepared for distribution in Cline’s residence and approximately 38 marijuana plants and 3.7 kilograms of marijuana that was being prepared for distribution in DeStefano’s residence. If convicted of the offense charged in the complaint, Cline and DeStefano each face a prison sentence of not less than five years and not more than 40 years, a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine. Cline and DeStefano also are scheduled to make their initial appearances in Albuquerque federal court tomorrow morning.
Cynthia Sandoval, 53, was arrested on a state arrest warrant for three counts of felony trafficking in Oxycodone in violation of NMSA § 30-31-20(A)(2)(a). If convicted of the state charges against her, Sandoval faces a maximum penalty of nine years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Officers seized approximately 7300 mg of Oxycodone during the investigation. During today’s law enforcement operation, they seized more than $1,000 in cash and two vehicles in addition to the marijuana plants and marijuana seized from the residences of Cline and DeStefano.
“Prescription drug abuse is our nation's fastest-growing segment of illegal drug abuse and it is devastating communities in New Mexico,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough. “The prescription drug abuse problem is one that law enforcement alone cannot solve, but instead will require a comprehensive effort from public health, medical providers and other community stakeholders. Although we are committed to being part of such an effort, we will continue to investigate and vigorously prosecute those who contribute to prescription drug abuse.”
“The abuse of prescription drugs, such as Oxycodone, is a serious problem in Santa Fe County and it leads all too often to addiction, shattered lives, and even death,” said First Judicial District Attorney Angela R. Pacheco. “It is in the interest of public safety, especially that of our young people, that the law enforcement community work together to target those who illegally distribute these pharmaceuticals in order to prevent future abuse and prescription drug overdoses throughout New Mexico.”
“Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem that destroys individuals’ lives and negatively affects the overall health and safety of our community,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit. “To address this problem and its often tragic consequences, DEA will continue to target those who illegally obtain and distribute these potentially dangerous substances.”
“I want to commend the dedicated members of my department, the HIDTA Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force and our fellow federal law enforcement partners for their efforts to rid the area of illegal narcotics and the perpetrators who dispense them,” Santa Fe Police Chief Raymond J. Rael said. “The nearly a year-long operation, spurred by the zealous work of my officers, ensures criminals get the message loud and clear, illegal activity of any kind will not be tolerated in Santa Fe.”
“The diversion and abuse of prescription drugs is a major problem in the Santa Fe area, which poses a major threat to both public health and public safety in the area,” added Lt. W. Troy Weisler, Commander of the HITDA Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force. “The individuals involved in the illegal distribution of prescription drugs are often involved in other criminal activities as well. Today’s operation will have a significant impact on narcotics trafficking in the area as well as the property and violent crime associated with it.”
These cases were investigated by the Tactical Diversion Team of the DEA’s Albuquerque office, the Santa Fe Police Department and the HIDTA Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force. The federal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shammara H. Henderson and Joel R. Meyers. The state case will be prosecuted by the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Operation High Desert Bash was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) program, a nationwide Department of Justice program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squads combine DEA resources with those of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an innovative effort to investigate, disrupt and dismantle those suspected of violating the Controlled Substances Act or other appropriate federal, state or local statutes pertaining to the diversion of licit pharmaceutical controlled substances or listed chemicals.
The HIDTA Region III Drug Enforcement Task Force is comprised of officers from the New Mexico State Police, Santa Fe Police Department and Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. It is part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program which was created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. HIDTA is a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) which provides assistance to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States and seeks to reduce drug trafficking and production by facilitating coordinated law enforcement activities and information sharing.
Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are only accusations. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.