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5th member of methamphetamine distribution ring pleads guilty

Crystal methamphetamine, assault weapon, semi-automatic pistol and ammunition seized

FRESNO, Calif. - The last of five defendants charged following a drug bust at a Mexican restaurant in Fowler, Calif., pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to charges stemming from a multi-agency investigation by the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Javier Lopez-Estrada, aka Jose Esquivel-Torres, 28, of Oakdale, Calif., pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute and to possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 3.

Mario Penaloza, 22, of Orange Cove, Calif.; Mario Martinez-Botello, 31, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Jesus Bucio-Mendoza, aka Miguel Mendoza Alvarez, 26, of Fresno, Calif.; and Armando Toledo, aka Ernesto Gonzalez-Garcia, 26, of San Fernando, Calif.; previously entered guilty pleas to federal drug charges and are scheduled for sentencing in April and May.

In pleading guilty, the defendants admitted their involvement in a drug deal in Fowler that led to the seizure of 7.5 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, one assault weapon, two semi-automatic handguns, and 32 rounds of ammunition. According to court documents, the defendants delivered five pounds of crystal methamphetamine to undercover agents following negotiations by Penaloza. Agents then seized another 2.5 pounds of the drug, along with the assault weapon and a firearm without serial numbers, from Penaloza's Orange Cove residence. Following the seizure, Penaloza indicated the drug had been smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

Penaloza, Lopez-Estrada, and Bucio-Mendoza Armando face a minimum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum prison sentence of life, and a $10 million fine. Toledo faces a mandatory prison sentence of five years and a maximum fine of $250,000. Martinez-Botello faces a maximum prison sentence of four years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.