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Mexican national sentenced to 20 years for methamphetamine trafficking

Defendant had four prior convictions in King County

TACOMA, Wash. - A Seattle-area resident with a history of drug trafficking was sentenced today in federal court to 20 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release for possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Andres Hernandez-Vargas, 50, was convicted by a federal jury in May 2009. According to testimony at the trial and court documents in the case, he was moving methamphetamine north from California to Washington.

In October 2008, Hernandez-Vargas drove from Seattle to Sacramento, Calif., on Interstate 5 and immediately returned to Seattle, driving through the night. A King County, Wash., sheriff's detective stopped him along Interstate 5 for exceeding the speed limit.

Hernandez-Vargas was arrested by King County when a check of immigration records revealed he was in the country illegally. Later, a K-9 officer detected something and officers recovered a pound of methamphetamine hidden in a compartment below the windshield wipers.

Hernandez-Vargas uses several aliases including Jorge Barrajas-Sandoval and Jesus Lopez-Sandoval. He has four previous felony drug convictions for heroin and cocaine in King County Superior Court dating back to 1988.

"Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug that can lead to violence and it has no place in our communities," said Brad Bench, acting special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Seattle. "ICE will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate this illegal activity."

At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton noted that the methamphetamine in this case was 99 percent pure, adding that it "was acquired directly from or close to the source…It is poison and it is harmful always."

ICE was joined in this investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the King County Sheriff's Office.