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Snapchat post leads to teen’s gun, drug charges

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

This social media photo was linked to a 17-year-old arrested this week. (SOURCE: Bernalillo County DA’s Office)

A dark-haired youth calling himself “Yunng _Finesse” appeared on social media in early May with an alarming lethal arsenal – multiple assault weapons, including an AR-15 pistol, and a cache of potentially deadly fentanyl pills.

Within weeks of learning about the posts, a new FBI-led violent crime task force in Albuquerque had identified the Snapchat account holder as Nathaniel Valenzuela. He is 17, and has racked up more than a dozen juvenile cases, with two pending violent felonies under investigation by Albuquerque police, according to a federal search warrant affidavit and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.

After an FBI confidential informant hooked up with Valenzuela on social media to buy his advertised fentanyl pills for $15 each, task force agents on Tuesday raided a South Valley house linked to Valenzuela. Items seized included about 60 suspected fentanyl pills and a loaded AR-15 pistol, ammunition and other firearms parts.

Valenzuela, who is expected to appear in Albuquerque’s Children’s Court today, was arrested and charged with state crimes of possession with intent to distribute fentanyl and unlawful possession of a handgun.

Pills suspected of being laced with fentanyl were advertised for sale on social media. (SOURCE: Bernalillo County DA’S Office)

“Mr. Valenzuela is someone who is of particular interest and someone who is likely connected to a substantial amount of criminal activity and violent crime,” said Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez. “Frankly, we have just started to scratch the surface of data-driven policing and data-driven prosecutions.”

To Torrez, Valenzuela’s arrest shows the effectiveness of high-tech efforts to identify and detain high-impact violent and repeat offenders in Albuquerque. The DA’s new Crime Strategies Fusion Center helped identify several of Valenzuela’s social media accounts, the search warrant affidavit states.

But the case also highlights the pitfalls of such prosecutions in Children’s Court in Albuquerque, Torrez said.

So far this year, 14 juveniles have been taken into state custody as youthful offenders. Of those, 13 cases involved firearms. Yet all but three youths have been released into the community pending trial, he added.

Torrez said he is in discussion with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about prosecuting the case in federal court, noting the arsenal linked to Valenzuela.

This automatic pistol was featured in social media posts linked to a 17-year-old with an alleged violent past. (SOURCE: Bernalillo County DA’S Office)

“Make no mistake about it, this young man had in his possession a weapon of war,” Torrez stated. The AR-15 pistol is small enough to be concealed on a person’s body and can be fired with just one hand.

Among social media videos linked to Valenzuela was one showing someone firing an AR-15 out of a car window on a dirt road. Another post showed stacks of $100 bills and baggies of light blue pills suspected to be the powerful opioid fentanyl.

Valenzuela’s criminal history includes 14 juvenile cases, one in Valencia County, at least three involving handguns, and two bench warrants for failure to appear in court. The two pending cases are aggravated assault and aggravated battery on a household member, Torrez said.

On Snapchat, “Yunng _Finesse” first came to the attention of a confidential citizen informant who has helped advance FBI national security investigations, the search warrant affidavit stated. The informant reported seeing social media photos and videos of multiple assault weapons and large quantities of fentanyl-laced pills for sale.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, center, with State Police Chief Tim Johnson, left, and FBI Special Agent in Charge for New Mexico James Langenberg, right, discuss the arrest of a 17-year-old who allegedly sold fentanyl pills on social media. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

At a news conference that included Torrez on Wednesday, FBI Special Agent in Charge James C. Langenberg said the newly formed violent crime task force, which includes N.M. State Police and Albuquerque police, is primarily focused on “repeat violent offenders who are engaged in trafficking firearms and drugs.”

With a recent escalation of violent crimes committed by youths, the task force is also focused on “some of the more prolific and violent juvenile offenders,” the search warrant affidavit stated.

State Police Chief Tim Johnson said his agency is still helping fight crime in Albuquerque, despite the reduction of a special uniformed force dispatched to the city in May.

“People are asking what our footprint in the city of Albuquerque looks like if we don’t have the extra resources here. This is what it looks like. These are the types of cases you will be seeing moving forward, targeting those very violent folks that are committing the majority of the very violent crimes.”