Western Slope drug arrests winding their way through court
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” At least three cases have been dropped from 30 or more drug distribution arrests in April that the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team said was one of the largest drug organizations ever on Colorado’s Western Slope.
The suspects have been winding their way through court, some already sentenced, some entering guilty pleas to get other charges dropped. Some cases are still ongoing.
On Thursday, District Judge Daniel Petre sentenced Gary Leamon McDonald to three years of probation, 90 days in jail, drug court and costs and fees. McDonald had already spent 189 days in jail.
But a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamines case against him from the TRIDENT investigation was dismissed. McDonald pleaded guilty to one count of possession of methamphetamines in a second case. That originated when TRIDENT said he had about 2 grams of meth in his house when they went to arrest him on suspicion of the original case.
Public defender James Conway took offense at Deputy District Attorney Ed Veronda’s calling McDonald a “drug dealer” in court.
“What’s off-base your honor is the DA saying my client’s a drug dealer,” he said, noting the conspiracy to distribute charge was never proven and was getting dismissed.
The Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team said it conducted a “roundup” of suspects in April after a lengthy investigation into “one of the largest drug organizations in the history of Colorado’s western slope.” TRIDENT seized over 65 pounds of marijuana, nine pounds of cocaine, over a pound of meth, ounces of hallucinogenic mushrooms, doses of ecstasy and LSD and a pistol in the possession of a previous offender, a news release said.
TRIDENT said the investigation began when detectives developed leads that an organization known as “The Boys” was importing large amounts of cocaine and meth from out of state into Glenwood Springs and Carbondale and distributing them throughout Garfield County. The investigation involved undercover officers and at least one confidential informant.
Attorney: ‘Flimsy case’
Conway said the case was based on one confidential informant who said they heard McDonald talking about drugs. He said a judge dismissed another of the 30 or so TRIDENT cases based on the informant’s lack of credibility.
“It’s one of the flimsiest cases I’ve ever seen in this jurisdiction, and that’s saying a lot,” said Conway. “They’re afraid to have (the confidential informant) come in and testify.”
Veronda, the prosecutor, called the now-dismissed TRIDENT case against McDonald “a very weak case” earlier in the hearing. He also mentioned McDonald has an ongoing drug distribution case in Eagle County.
McDonald said he’d had drug problems for quite some time and apologized.
At least one other suspect’s case from the TRIDENT investigation has been dismissed. Petre dismissed another case with one conspiracy to distribute charge against Michael Martinez after a preliminary hearing in July.
“Virtually all, if not all, of the evidence tying the defendant to any conspiracy to sell the drugs was hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay,” a court document summarizing Petre’s findings states. “Given this reliance upon hearsay, the court also noted the lack of corroboration of the defendant’s involvement, whether through telephone records tying calls placed from the (informant’s) phone to the defendant’s phone or in some other fashion, which would have given the hearsay evidence indicia of reliability.”
Before the hearing, Martinez called the Post Independent a few times from the Garfield County Jail insisting he was innocent and asking for help. He said the informant that TRIDENT used in the investigation was going around pointing the finger at many of the wrong people.
Another failed case from the TRIDENT investigation was one accusing Danielle Trujillo of selling prescription pills. Another woman with the same first and last name reportedly received a hand-delivered check for $1,510 in May from the District Attorney’s Office after prosecutors admitted TRIDENT arrested the wrong woman in connection with the drug ring.
TRIDENT agents had a warrant for what they believed was the correct suspect but failed to properly confirm her identity when arresting the wrong one. Trujillo, a stay-at-home mom, was arrested at her home in Rifle on April 17. She said it was in front of her 2-year-old daughter.
The photo TRIDENT gave to the media, presumably of the correct suspect, is a smaller, Latino woman. The wrongfully arrested Trujillo has much lighter skin and looks very different. Trujillo said police officers from Vail, Silt, Rifle and Glenwood Springs arrived with a photo of the other Trujillo, who obviously isn’t her, but arrested her anyway.
The real Trujillo who allegedly sold prescription pills was also apparently surprised at the oversight. She left a message on the confidential informant’s answering machine days after the arrests that said, “How did you get out again so soon hmm … where you at that you have computer access? Weird you were in the paper so was some chick with the same name as me almost but she’s 31. Anyhow hmm talk to you later,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Danielle 1,2 or 3?
After the bungled arrest, TRIDENT took another whack at finding its pill-slinging suspect by obtaining another Danielle Trujillo arrest warrant on May 27. TRIDENT got three pictures of Danielle Trujillos in the area from the Rifle Police Department and Department of Motor Vehicles records and labeled them Danielle 1, 2 and 3, an arrest warrant affidavit says.
The informant ” who was getting paid and received favorable prosecution ” reviewed the photos and said it was “definitely” Danielle 3. The undercover TRIDENT officer who said he witnessed the informant buy prescription pills from Trujillo said “due to the time frame he could not be absolutely positive” and the woman he saw “had a different hairstyle,” the affidavit says. But the officer said he “believes” the woman is Danielle 3.
It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone is still looking for the actual Trujillo suspect. The warrant was canceled on June 6. A motion and order to quash the warrant contains no further explanation.
A handful of the suspects have already taken guilty pleas. District Judge Denise Lynch sentenced one suspect, Eduardo Lopez Garcia, to three years probation and 119 days in jail plus costs and fines in July. Garcia pleaded guilty to a possession charge in exchange for dismissal of a possession with the intent to distribution charge, court records show.
Lynch sentenced Eric Lee Wesseling in September to a deferred judgment and sentence under three years probation, 60 days in jail, 100 hours community service and costs and fees. He must also undergo substance abuse treatment at the Right Door. Wesseling pleaded guilty to one drug distribution charge and had two others dropped.
Petre sentenced Ruben Cruz Gallardo in June to a deferred judgment and sentence under four years of probation, 90 days in jail, 48 hours of community service and costs and fees. Gallardo pleaded guilty to a drug possession charge.
Other cases that are still ongoing include drug distribution and possession charges against Brandi Malee Hendren, Richard Charles Johnson, Wilburn David Blevins, Robert Leroy Bunn, John Joseph Shertz, Travanti Jaramillo, Ernesto Escamilla, Rico Rodriguez Haywood and Ramon Alonso Escando Baca.
The status of other cases wasn’t immediately available. Tina Fang, who heads the regional Public Defenders Office that is handling some of the cases, couldn’t be reached. Other attorneys handling some of the cases also couldn’t be reached.
Sheriff Lou Vallario, chairman of TRIDENT’s governing board, said in an e-mail he isn’t following the cases through court. District Attorney Martin Beeson couldn’t be immediately reached.
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