Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
FBI agents lost 5 pounds of methamphetamine last month during a “reverse sting” in a parking lot on Coors near I-40.
The incident also sent a member of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force to a hospital after he was struck by the suspects’ car in the Home Depot parking lot.
Agents fired their weapons at the suspects but didn’t hit anyone.
Only one of the suspects, Juan Carlos Quezada-Lara, has been charged in federal court – but not with drug charges in connection with the reverse sting. Instead, according to court documents, he is charged with being an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm and with being a drug addict in possession of a firearm. He previously has been deported three times.
Alex Gamboa, the man who allegedly took possession of the methamphetamine during the reverse sting, hasn’t been charged but was arrested for probation violation.
An FBI spokesman said the case is under investigation and he couldn’t make any additional comments – including whether the FBI has recovered the methamphetamine, which could be worth between $25,000 and $35,000 wholesale.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t respond to Journal requests for information about the case.
Reverse stings involve agents pretending to be drug dealers who deliver drugs in return for money. The arrests are supposed to take place when the transaction occurs.
But they are considered to be risky, because there is always a danger that the targeted criminals will steal the drugs.
Operation goes awry
The FBI Safe Street Task Force, which includes FBI agents and local law enforcement personnel assigned to the task force, planned to deliver 5 pounds of methamphetamine to Gamboa and Quezada-Lara in the parking lot of a shopping center on Coors NW at 5 p.m. on June 19.
Gamboa took possession of the drug and returned to the vehicle as agents closed in. That’s when Quezada-Lara, who was driving the car, put the car into reverse and rammed a parked car.
He then sped forward and struck a member of the task force, who was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Quezada-Lara then drove out of the parking lot with Gamboa and the drugs as members of the task force fired at the car. According to court records, the car sped away at speeds reaching 100 mph through red lights and stop signs during the evening rush hour.
Agents later found the car abandoned in a residential area near 12th and Los Golondrinas NW on the east side of the Rio Grande.
Quezada-Lara and Gamboa ran.
Later that evening, Quezada-Lara’s girlfriend reported the car stolen.
Agents found her the next day. She told agents Quezada-Lara was using methamphetamine and that she had a key to the house where he lived.
She and his grandfather gave agents permission to search the house, where they found a .38-caliber revolver and a 30-30 rifle above his bed.
Quezada-Lara talked to agents on the telephone and agreed to surrender.
According to court records, he asked whether the officer he hit was OK.
“I’m sorry. I just got scared and didn’t know what to do. I panicked,” he said, according to court documents.
After his arrest and Miranda warning, he gave agents a detailed account of the drug deal and the escape.
He said he bought the firearms on the street for his protection and admitted to smoking methamphetamine every other day for the past three years.
He faces up to 10 years in federal prison on each charge, followed by deportation – for the fourth time – when he completes his sentence.
Quezada-Lara told agents that Gamboa hid the package of methamphetamine in the neighborhood where they abandoned the car and said he believed Gamboa planned to return and retrieve the drugs.
Investigators checked the area but were unable to find it.
After Quezada-Lara was arrested, they found Gamboa at his home in the 1100 block of Nutrias SW.
They arrested him on a warrant for a probation violation, but he wouldn’t let agents search the house without a warrant.
After obtaining the search warrant, agents went through the home but did not find the drugs.
Gamboa was on probation for being a felon in possession of a firearm out of the state District Court in Tierra Amarilla.