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Contraband
12/12/2008

4 men sentenced to years in prison for distributing cocaine, methamphetamine

Sentences range from 2 to 20 years

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The last two of four defendants who were part of a cocaine and methamphetamine distribution ring were sentenced Thursday in federal court. These sentences are the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with assistance from state and local law enforcement.

U.S. District Court Judge Joan Ericksen sentenced Jesus Gutierrez-Cortez, 34, of Minneapolis, to 34 months in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiring to distribute and possessing with intent to distribute 500 or more grams of cocaine. Judge Ericksen also sentenced Arturo Rodriguez-Hernandez, 41, unknown address, to 24 months in prison and three years of supervised release for conspiring to distribute cocaine.

Earlier this month, Judge Ericksen sentenced Jose Rodriguez-Lopez, 38, unknown address, to 60 months in prison and four years of supervised release for conspiring to distribute and possessing with intent to distribute 500 or more grams of cocaine and 500 or more grams of methamphetamine. Judge Ericksen sentenced Santos Mercado-Contreras, 34, of Yakima, Wash., to 240 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release for conspiring to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine.

All four men were indicted April 22 and later pleaded guilty.

According to evidence presented in court by ICE, authorities began investigating Gutierrez-Cortez in March after learning he had received a large shipment of cocaine and was willing to sell it.

Authorities arranged a controlled purchase with Gutierrez-Cortez April 1 in a St. Paul parking lot. Gutierrez-Cortez told the prospective buyer he needed to get the cocaine from a St. Paul apartment complex. Investigators followed Gutierrez-Cortez to the complex and saw him meet with Mercado-Contreras in the parking lot. Mercado-Contreras then entered the apartment building and returned carrying an object wrapped in plastic grocery bag. All four men entered a van and drove back to the first parking lot. Investigators saw Gutierrez-Cortez and Rodriguez-Lopez leave the area on foot, while Mercado-Contreras and Rodriguez-Hernandez drove away. Police stopped the van and seized a brick of cocaine weighing 994 grams wrapped in a red towel. All four men were arrested.

Authorities executed a search warrant at the apartment believed to have been the one entered by Mercado-Contreras to obtain the drugs, where police recovered 3,135 grams of methamphetamine.

This case resulted from an investigation by ICE, the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, and the St. Paul Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas M. Hollenhorst.