Drug Enforcement Administration

San Francisco

Christopher Nielsen, Special Agent in Charge

April 09, 2019

Contact: Casey Rettig

Phone Number: (415) 436-7994

East Bay drug traffickers sentenced to 15 years and 10 years in prison

OAKLAND, Calif. – Michael Vicochea was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and Christian Vanleer was sentenced to 10 years in prison, for their respective roles in a drug distribution conspiracy and related crimes, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson and DEA Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen. The sentences were handed down by U.S. District Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr.

 

Vicochea, 26, of Tracy, Calif., pleaded guilty on Aug. 20, 2018, to drug trafficking, weapons and money laundering charges. According to his plea agreement, Vicochea conspired with co-defendant Oscar Escalante and others to distribute heroin and multiple pounds of methamphetamine. For example, Vicochea admitted that in July and August of 2016, Escalante supplied him with methamphetamine. On Aug. 24, 2016, Vicochea’s nephew, Christian Vanleer, 26, of Oakland, possessed a pound of the drugs that Vicochea acknowledged he was responsible for selling. Vicochea also was responsible for giving to Escalante part of the proceeds of the sales after the drugs were sold. Vicochea also admitted that beginning in September 2014, he operated an indoor marijuana grow at his house that resulted in about 80 plants per harvest every 60-72 days. In addition, Vicochea admitted he assisted with the operations of other grow houses operated by his co-defendants and that he distributed marijuana from the operations in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. 

 

With respect to the firearms charges, Vicochea admitted he possessed a red Sig Sauer P220 pistol in furtherance of the drug trafficking crimes. He acknowledged that he possessed the firearm in order to protect himself and the marijuana grow at his house.

 

Further, Vicochea admitted he helped Escalante launder proceeds of the drug distribution. For example, in December of 2015, he deposited $46,100 in cash to accounts controlled by Escalante. To evade reporting requirements and to conceal that the funds were the proceeds of drug trafficking, Vicochea made deposits in amounts of $9,000 or less and at multiple bank branches in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Vicochea acknowledged depositing more than $165,000 into various bank accounts in furtherance of the money laundering scheme. 

 

On Dec. 15, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging Vicochea with the following crimes: conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c); conspiracy to launder drug proceeds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h); possession and transfer of a machine gun, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(o); distribution and possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1); and money laundering by concealment, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1). Vicochea pleaded guilty to four counts and the remaining counts were dismissed.

 

Vanleer pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy on Nov. 19, 2018, pursuant to a two-count superseding information, alleging conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and 50 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). 

 

According to his plea agreement, as early as Dec. 2, 2015, and until Aug. 24, 2016, Vanleer conspired with his codefendants to distribute cocaine, heroin, alprazolam and methamphetamine. His role was to engage in street-level sales, take his share of the proceeds and transmit the remainder of the proceeds to his co-conspirators. On Aug. 24, 2016, law enforcement officers seized a pound of methamphetamine from a backpack Vanleer was carrying. Vanleer acknowledged that he had allowed Vicochea to store the methamphetamine at Vanleer’s apartment in Oakland. Vanleer further admitted that, along with the methamphetamine, he had a pistol in the backpack to protect himself and the drugs. 

 

In addition to the prison terms, Judge Gilliam also ordered Vicochea and Vanleer to serve five years and four years of supervised release, respectively. Vanleer was ordered to pay a fine of $25,100 representing money paid to him by an undercover officer during controlled buy operations in 2016.

           

In addition to Vicochea and Vanleer, Judge Gilliam has sentenced the following defendants in connection with the conspiracy:

 

Defendant

Age

Charges

Sentence of Imprisonment

Oscar Escalante

43

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy; 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)—Heroin and Methamphetamine Trafficking Conspiracy; 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) – Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking; 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) – Money Laundering Conspiracy  

235 months

David Vigil

46

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy; 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A) – Heroin and Methamphetamine Trafficking Conspiracy

121 months

Phillip Jiunti

43

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy; supervised release violation in separate 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) – Felon in Possession of Firearm case

70 months

Daniel Medina

25

21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) – Distribution of Heroin; 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) – Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking

66 months

Oswaldo Escalante

46

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy; 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) – Money Laundering Conspiracy  

65 months

Jorge Gomez

39

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy

60 months

Ignacio Gonzalez

31

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy; 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) – Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking

60 months

Adan Gonzalez

47

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy

60 months

James Hinkle

38

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy

12 months, 1 day

Claudia Munoz

37

21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) – Marijuana Trafficking Conspiracy; 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) – Money Laundering Conspiracy

Time served, 3 years supervised release

Melina Escalante

40

18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) – Money Laundering Conspiracy

Time served, 3 years supervised release

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank Riebli and Katherine Wawrzyniak are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Rebecca Shelton. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the DEA. The investigation was conducted and funded by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency task force that coordinates long-term narcotics trafficking investigations.  

 

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