ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Mexican man, illegally residing in the United States, was sentenced Thursday to more than seven years in federal prison for methamphetamine trafficking on a Navajo Indian Reservation.
Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated this case.
Luis Rangel Arce, 45, will be turned over to ICE and placed in removal proceedings after he completes his 87-month federal prison sentence.
Luis Rangel Arce and his co-defendants Miguel Rangel Arce, 36, and Rogelio Santiago Quiroa-Valdez, also Mexican nationals, were among eight San Juan County, New Mexico, residents charged with federal narcotics trafficking. These arrests resulted from a multi-agency investigation led by HSI and the HIDTA Region II Narcotics Task Force into methamphetamine trafficking on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico. The three men were arrested in May 2016 during a law enforcement operation that included the execution of two search warrants at residences in Shiprock and Kirtland, New Mexico.
The investigation leading to the federal charges was initiated in response to an increase in methamphetamine trafficking on the Navajo Indian Reservation in the Shiprock area; it was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. OCDETF is a Department of Justice program that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
This investigation identified eight defendants, who were charged in five indictments, through a series of methamphetamine purchases by undercover law enforcement officers. During this investigation, law enforcement authorities seized more than 2 ½ pounds of methamphetamine, 10 firearms, about $1,600 in cash, and a vehicle.
Luis Rangel Arce, Miguel Rangel Arce, and Quiroa-Valdez were charged with methamphetamine trafficking in a seven-count indictment filed in April 2016. The indictment charged the three men with participating in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy between November 2015 and March 2016, and with distributing methamphetamine on six occasions between January and March 2016. According to the indictment, the three men committed these crimes in San Juan County.
Luis Rangel Arce pleaded guilty Aug. 16, 2016, to distributing methamphetamine. In entering his guilty plea, Luis Rangel Arce admitted distributing methamphetamine to an undercover officer: 63.17 grams on Jan. 11, 2016, and 55.3 grams on Jan. 14, 2016.
On Aug. 30, 2016, Miguel Rangel Arce pleaded guilty to participating in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy. He admitted that from Nov. 24, 2015 through March 17, 2016, he conspired to distribute between 500 grams and 1.5 kilograms of methamphetamine to an undercover officer. At sentencing, Miguel Rangel Arce faces a statutory minimum penalty of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.
Quiroa-Valdez also pleaded guilty Aug. 30, 2016. He admitted that on Feb. 24, 2016, he distributed 85.5 grams of methamphetamine to an undercover officer. At sentencing Quiroa-Valdez faces a statutory minimum penalty of five years and a maximum of 40 years in prison.
Miguel Rangel Arce and Quiroa-Valdez remain in custody pending sentencing hearings, which have yet to be scheduled. They will be turned over to ICE to be placed in removal proceedings after they complete their prison sentences.
The other five defendants were charged with methamphetamine trafficking in four other indictments. One pleaded guilty and was sentenced Sept. 27, 2016. Three entered guilty pleas and are awaiting sentencing. The other two defendants have entered not-guilty pleas and are awaiting trial.
Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless convicted in a court of law.
The following agencies assisted in these cases: the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Shiprock office of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety, New Mexico State Police, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, Farmington (New Mexico) Police Department, and New Mexico National Guard.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elaine Y. Ramirez, District of New Mexico, is prosecuting these cases.