The last defendant in a smuggling ring responsible for bringing pounds of methamphetamine to the area from Mexico pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg.
The three from Dodge City, Kan., were arrested in the Lowesville area of Amherst County on Dec. 7 with a pound of methamphetamine.
Lt. Greg Turner of the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office said the drugs seized that day were part of a two-pound package.
“The first pound was dropped off in Kansas while these three defendants were en route here,” Turner said. “It is believed the meth was manufactured in Mexico and was smuggled into Arizona.”
During Wednesday morning’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Bassford explained how drug investigators with the sheriff’s office used a confidential informant to set up the bust. Bassford said the informant had already gotten one pound of methamphetamine from the smugglers and offered to get another.
Marisela Sierra, 35, was the last to plead guilty to a charge of conspiring to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. Co-defendants Rene Humberto Reyna, 51, and Otoniel Carrasco Rivera, 37, pleaded guilty to the same charge in May.
Bassford said Reyna was the leader of the group and would split off from them to pick up the drugs in Arizona. Rivera would ride with Sierra, sometimes on a bus, as security while Sierra was responsible for actually carrying the drugs.
“She admitted doing this once before,” the prosecutor said.
Sierra, Reyna and Rivera were arrested by investigators from Amherst and Rockbridge counties. The case was turned over to federal authorities, Turner said, because of the cross-state trafficking and because investigators believed the drugs originated outside of the United States.
Bassford said Amherst County wasn’t just another waypoint for the drugs on the way to somewhere else.
“Absolutely I believe it was being distributed locally,” he said.
He also explained there is somewhat of a geographical divide in methamphetamine trafficking in Virginia. It may be unusual here to catch traffickers moving pound-size quantities, he said, but he regularly prosecutes such cases from jurisdictions west of Lynchburg such as Carroll County.
Bassford said the wholesale price of a pound of methamphetamine is about $15,000. At about $100 per gram, the street value is closer to $45,000, Turner said.
Bassford commended local authorities and federal investigators on their cooperation.
Sierra, Reyna and Rivera are jailed without bond pending a sentencing hearing set for Sept. 7. Their conspiracy charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison and a fine of up to $4 million.
A couple once believed to be missing are now suspects in connection with a string of burglaries. Joshua Bolt is still at large and is believed to be armed and dangerous.