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Contraband
04/01/2011

Oregon drug courier sentenced to 9 years in prison

Conviction stems from multi-agency investigation of Bakersfield-area drug dealers

FRESNO, Calif. - An Oregon man convicted of serving as a courier for a drug trafficking organization operating in the southern San Joaquin Valley has been sentenced to nine years in federal prison following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and several other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Leovardo Zuniga Gomez, 43, of Canby, Ore., was sentenced Friday to nine years in federal prison for possessing with intent to distribute 10 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and one kilogram of cocaine.

The case stems from an intensive investigation by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that initially targeted drug dealers in Porterville and Terra Bella, Calif. According to court documents and proceedings, the OCDETF investigation led to a stash house in Visalia, Calif., where Zuniga obtained the drugs for shipment to Oregon.

In sentencing Zuniga, Chief U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii remarked that this is "a serious offense" and cited the need for "adequate deterrence." Judge Ishii also rejected an argument by Zuniga's attorney that his role as a courier was minor and stated that "drug dealers do not entrust this quantity of drugs to total strangers."

"This joint enforcement effort resulted in the breakup of a criminal organization responsible for distributing large quantities of dangerous drugs here in the southern San Joaquin Valley," said Michael Toms, resident agent in charge for ICE HSI in Bakersfield. "This sentence serves as a harsh reminder about the consequences awaiting those whose illegal activities put the safety and welfare of our communities at risk."

The OCDETF investigation was led by ICE HSI with assistance from the Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, consisting of agents from ICE HSI; the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE); the Kern and Tulare county sheriff's offices; and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.