A major player in a drug ring responsible for importing large quantities of methamphetamine from Mexico was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. One of his co-defendants pleaded guilty in federal court for her part in the ring.
Rafael Meza-Ixta, 32, was sentenced to 120 months in prison and five years supervised release by Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. on Wednesday morning, with Marshall noting that upon his release from prison, Meza-Ixta likely will be detained by immigration officials and deported to his native Mexico.
"If you are deported immediately after your prison time," Marshall told Meza-Ixta through an interpreter, "which we all anticipate, you may not return to the United States for that five-year period without permission from the relevant authorities."
Marshall told Meza-Ixta that if he is not deported immediately or if he does receive permission to reenter the U.S. within the five-year period covered by his supervised release, he must report to the federal probation office within 72 hours of his release from prison or his reentry into the U.S.
Meza-Ixta appeared in court through a videoconference link from Bowie County, Texas, where he has been held since his arrest in March 2018. Through his lawyer, Marjorie Rogers of Little Rock, Meza-Ixta asked Marshall to recommend that he serve his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute in Texarkana, Texas.
Marshall gave Meza-Ixta credit for the time he has served in federal custody since his arrest.
According to a criminal complaint by Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Adam Cornwell, Meza-Ixta was responsible for arranging the transportation of large quantities of methamphetamine into the state along with co-defendant and reputed leader of the drug ring, Javier Colin-Flores.
Colin-Flores and another co-defendant, Randolf Luis Aviles, the complaint alleged, had stepped into a vacuum created when federal authorities dismantled a drug trafficking ring headed by Irene Barrera and Estanilao Roman Cornego in early 2017.
After his arrest in October 2017, Meza-Ixta told police that he and Colin-Flores had arranged for a Mexican supplier to transport 2 to 5 kilograms of methamphetamine per trip into Arkansas from Texas, for which Mexa-Ixta told investigators that "we" paid $6,500 per kilogram, the complaint said.
A presentencing memorandum prepared by Rogers said that Meza-Ixta was raised by his father after his mother left when he was 13. The report said Meza-Ixta had been using drugs and alcohol before his father's death in 2010 and his addiction really kicked in after that to the point that it "controlled him until his recent arrest."
Before sentencing, Meza-Ixta apologized for his actions and told Marshall that he was ready to get the episode behind him.
"I regret very much what I did," he said. "I have been doing changes to my life here in jail and I want to get over and done with my time so I can reunite with my family and do the necessary changes in the real world together with my family."
One of Meza-Ixta's co-defendants, Heather Fuentes, pleaded guilty before Marshall to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine for her part in the drug ring.
Upon sentencing, Fuentes could face five to 40 years in prison, a fine up to $5 million, not less than four years supervised release and a special assessment of $100.
Marshall cautioned Fuentes that he could not predict what sentence she might receive if she entered a guilty plea, that much of that would be determined by a presentence report that would be prepared by the Federal Probation Office before her sentencing date.
Bryant read over the facts of the case, noting that Fuentes had been a part of an organized-crime enterprise responsible for supplying "pound quantities of methamphetamine" to the greater Little Rock area.
Bryant said that for months, DEA investigators utilized confidential sources, an undercover agent, cellphone intercepts, search warrants, arrests and interviews to build a case against numerous co-defendants, including Fuentes.
After Fuentes' guilty plea, Marshall asked her to describe the actions that led to her guilt.
"I lived with Mr. Flores and I agreed to selling the methamphetamine," she said.
Marshall then explained the sentencing which takes place after completion of the presentencing report, which can take up to three months or more.
"Quite frankly, we're running a bit behind with the virus and the number of criminal cases so the lawyers will get with my courtroom deputy after I leave to come up with a date and time, certain, for your sentencing," he said. "I'm thinking it will be May or June, somewhere in there as we get toward the summer."
Fuentes' attorney, Christian Alexander of Little Rock, advised the judge of a health condition affecting his client and asked if her sentencing could be expedited in order to get her into a Bureau of Prisons facility with better health care. Fuentes has been in the Pulaski County jail since July 21 after she violated the terms of her pretrial release.
"She recently had surgery on, I believe it was her aorta, and Pulaski County, I don't know if they are equipped to take care of her needs," Alexander said, adding lightly, "So, if I come back to you at some point, that's what I'll be whining about."
"I appreciate the anticipatory whine, Mr. Alexander," Marshall said, then asked the probation office if an earlier sentencing date could be arranged. He was told a mid-April date could most likely be arranged provided no objections were raised in the meantime.
Of the 22 co-defendants in the case, 13 have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to terms ranging from probation to 188 months in federal prison.