LOS LUNAS — Lonnie Dean, 48, of Belen, pleaded guilty Tuesday to methamphetamine trafficking and assault on a federal officer charges under a plea agreement that requires him to serve a 20-year prison sentence.
Dean was one of 12 individuals from Valencia and Socorro counties charged with federal methamphetamine trafficking charges in May and June 2011, following a 16-month investigation led by the DEA and the Los Lunas Police Department.
The investigation, code-named “Vanilla Sky,” was pursued under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, a nationwide initiative that combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated attack against major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.
According to court filings, Dean was part of a large scale methamphetamine trafficking organization that operated in Valencia County, and allegedly was led by Arturo Acosta-Astorga, 53, and Ovidio Estrada, 39, both residents of Los Lunas.
Between March 2010 and May 2011, Acosta-Astorga, Estrada and their co-conspirators allegedly conspired to sell ounce quantities of methamphetamine to undercover DEA agents on at least ten separate occasions. The defendants allegedly sold more than a pound of methamphetamine to the undercover DEA agents during a 14-month period.
During the hearing Tuesday, Dean pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon.
In entering his guilty plea, Dean admitted conspiring with others to distribute methamphetamine in Los Lunas and Belen, and assaulting a federal officer as he attempted to avoid arrest.
More specifically, Dean admitted that on May 26, 2011, he drove to a gas station in Belen for the purpose of selling methamphetamine to another person.
As Dean was talking to his customer, DEA agents approached him and attempted to arrest him. One DEA agent, who had blocked Dean’s car from the front, exited his car and was moving on foot to a better tactical position with his gun and badge drawn, while another agent parked his vehicle behind Dean’s car to block him in.
Dean admitted that, instead of surrendering, he put his car into reverse and hit the DEA agent’s car causing it to go backward. Dean then put his car into drive and drove forward, missing the DEA agent only because the agent jumped to the side to avoid being struck.
Less than a minute later, Dean drove into a road and entered an intersection where he struck a car driven by Roberta Torres, 40, of Belen, who died as a result of the injuries she sustained in the crash.
Dean has been in federal custody since his arrest on May 2011, and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.
Dean also faces several state charges, including homicide by vehicle, relating to Torres’ death in the 13th Judicial District Court. He has entered a not guilty plea to the state charges.
Three other defendants have entered guilty pleas in this federal case, including Andrew Gilbert Martinez, 30, of Socorro, Thanh Vu Huynh, 47, of Los Lunas, and Sylvia Jeanette Sisneros, 51, of Socorro.
6:51am 1/17/13 — Belen Man Indicted in Fatal Crash
By Brent Ruffner/Valencia County News-Bulletin
A Belen man who police say crashed his car into another vehicle, killing a 40-year-old female driver last year, was indicted by a Valencia County Grand Jury on Thursday.
The grand jury indicted Lonnie Dean, 47, on vehicular homicide charges after he was indicted in June on separate federal charges of intent to distribute methamphetamine and assaulting a federal officer.
In May 2011, authorities said Dean fled from Drug Enforcement Agency officers who had been conducting a drug investigation in Valencia County. Authorities said Dean crashed his red Ford Mustang into a silver Chrysler Sebring driven by Roberta Torres of Belen.
Torres was taken from the scene of the crash near Don Felipe and Lopez roads in Belen to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The female passenger in Torres’ vehicle, Ashley Wright, suffered only minor injuries.
The Valencia County Grand Jury indicted Dean on one count of vehicular homicide, one count of great bodily injury by vehicle and one count of aggravated fleeing of a law enforcement officer.
“It took us a while to get the indictment,” said 13th Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez. “We wanted to be sure we could prove the case.”
Martinez said the fact that Dean was in federal custody gave the state time to put together a solid case. Dean is currently being held at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia.
“It helped us put the case together,” Martinez said. “Now, we can move on with prosecution.”
Police say Dean was traveling west on Lopez Road at a high rate of speed when his car struck the Chrysler Sebring, which was southbound on Don Felipe.
DEA officials said the agents were not pursuing Dean when he took off. Agents took Dean into custody after the crash.
Law enforcement officials believe that Dean is a part of the drug trafficking organization, which stemmed from the investigation leading to the crash.
On June 30, authorities arrested five suspects, who they said were part of the same drug organization as Dean that sold more than a pound of methamphetamines to DEA agents on 10 separate occasions between March 2010 and May 2011.
Those arrested were Jeffrey Gates, 53, of Los Lunas; Misty Gates, 42, of Los Lunas; Larry Romero, 35, of Los Lunas; and Sandra Tien of Belen.
The four were taken into custody on state felony charges of conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance and attempting to commit a felony.
On May 26, Dean was believed to be a part of multiple drug transactions before the crash.
Dean was indicted in U.S. District Court June 22 on charges of assault on a federal officer and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
He has pleaded not guilty to those charges. A hearing on the latest charges has not been scheduled.
7/20/11 — Four Arrested in Alleged Drug Ring
By Brent Ruffner/Valencia County News-Bulletin
Los Lunas police have made four more arrests in an alleged drug trafficking ring, netting people whom police say intended to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine.
The arrests are part of a 16-month investigation, code-named Vanilla Sky, that was handled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Los Lunas Police Department.
Those arrested were Jeffrey Gates, 53; Misty Gates, 42 and Larry Romero, 35, all of Los Lunas, and Sandra Tien of Belen. The four were taken into custody on state felony charges of conspiracy, possession of a controlled substance and attempting to commit a felony.
They have been arrested on three separate dates since June 30 on state charges because the amount of meth the group allegedly intended to distribute does not meet the standard for federal charges.
On June 30, authorities arrested five suspects who they said were part of a drug organization that sold more than a pound of meth to DEA agents on 10 separate occasions between March 2010 and May 2011.
Police said Thanh Huynh, 45, one of the original suspects arrested on federal charges, is suspected of dealing drugs out of a gold and silver business in the Tri-Square Plaza at 1960 Main Street in Los Lunas.
Los Lunas Police Lt. Naithan Gurule said investigators got complaints that Huynh may have been dealing drugs out of the business over an eight-month period.
“Police conducted surveillance and noticed several documented users going in and out of the building,” Gurule said.
Arturo Acosta-Astorga, 52, of Los Lunas, and Sylvia Sisneros, 50, of Socorro, who are believed to be part of the organization, were not arrested and are wanted by authorities. Gurule said police expect to make three more arrests in the case.
Law enforcement officials said Belen resident Lonnie Dean, 46, is also a suspect. On May 26, officials said Dean fled from DEA agents who had been conducting an investigation in Valencia County.
That day, Dean was believed to be a part of multiple drug transactions before police say he crashed his red Mustang into a silver Chrysler Sebring driven by Roberta Torres of Belen. Torres was taken from the scene of the crash in Belen to University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Dean was arrested at the scene.
— This article appeared on page C2 of the Albuquerque Journal