California women plead guilty to Iowa meth conspiracy following HSI investigation
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Two women who conspired to distribute methamphetamine pleaded guilty in federal court in Sioux City on June 16 following a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and law enforcement partner investigation.
Lauretta Payce, 61, of Fontana, California, and Andrea Romo, 41, of Gardena, California, were convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
At their plea hearings, Payce and Romo admitted their involvement in a conspiracy that distributed at least 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine from December 2019 through May 2022. The pair also admitted to assisting at least six others in the conspiracy by distributing roughly 4 pounds of methamphetamine and 1 pound of marijuana from California and Nevada and transporting the drugs in a hidden vehicle compartment to Cherokee, Iowa, for further distribution.
Sentencing before U.S. District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand will be set after authorities prepare presentence reports. Payce and Romo are in U.S. Marshals Service custody, where they will remain pending sentencing. Each woman faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment and a possible maximum sentence of life imprisonment, a $10 million fine, and at least five years of supervised release following imprisonment.
The case was investigated by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program of the U.S. Department of Justice through a cooperative effort between HSI, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Iowa DCI Laboratory and the Cherokee Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn S. Wehde is prosecuting the case.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.
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