ST. GEORGE — Two men that were pulled over for speeding in Iron County with 30 pounds of methamphetamine concealed in the trunk of their car in August were sentenced Monday in 5th District Court.
Carlos Alberto Caballero, 25, and Carlos Humberto Bustamante Avila, 24, were each sentenced on one second-degree felony count of possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, while misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia were dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea.
The sentence stems from an incident that began Aug. 14, when a Utah Highway Patrol trooper stopped the defendants’ vehicle on northbound Interstate 15 near mile marker 65 for going 84 mph in an 80 mph zone. When the suspects started acting suspicious, a K-9 team was deployed to the scene.
During a search of the vehicle, officers found two suitcases in the trunk that contained approximately 30 pounds of methamphetamine packaged in gallon-sized plastic bags and hidden behind the inside liner of the suitcases. UHP reported that the total street value was estimated to be between $600,000 and $1 million.
During Monday’s hearing, the 1-15 year prison sentence was suspended in each of the cases, under the terms of the plea agreement. Instead, Caballero and Avila were each sentenced to serve 396 days in jail and ordered to pay $1,053 in fines, according to the plea agreement that was reached Nov. 2 during a hearing where both men pleaded guilty to the charges.
Caballero and Avila were also placed on 18-months probation to be supervised by 5th District Court.
Penalties and punishment — state case versus federal case
As a general rule, federal judges must impose a minimum term of imprisonment for defendants convicted of drug-related offenses. For example, a conviction of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, if that substance is more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, carries a maximum sentence of not less than 10 years in federal prison, according to a congressional research report released in 2018.
The 30 pounds of methamphetamine recovered from the trunk of the car in this case equals more than 13,600 grams of methamphetamine, which is 13,600 grams more than what would be required to meet the federal sentencing threshold.
Had this case gone to federal court, the defendants would have likely faced a harsher punishment and longer prison sentences, as was seen in the case of a California man, Ricardo Cordero, who was reportedly found with 36 pounds of methamphetamine in the trunk of his vehicle in December of last year.
During the Dec. 11 incident, a Washington County Drug Task Force detective stopped the vehicle, which was heading north on Interstate 15 near mile marker 18 just past the Hurricane Exit. During a search of the trunk, police found 32 individually rolled oblong packages containing methamphetamine.
In that case, state charges, including second-degree felony possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, were filed against both Cordero and the passenger traveling with him at the time, 22-year-old Violet Armenta, who was also from Los Angeles.
Shortly after, federal prosecutors picked up the case against Cordero and his state charges were dropped. The case against Armenta, on the other hand, remained under the jurisdiction of 5th District Court.
Armenta was sentenced to serve one year in jail and placed on 12-months bench probation during a hearing before District Judge Michael G. Westfall in July.
Cordero appeared in federal court after pleading guilty to one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and in August, he was sentenced to serve 10 years in federal prison, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
St. George News reporter JEFF RICHARDS contributed to this report.
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