Crystal methamphetamine brimmed from every corner of the house. It filled dozens of gallon-sized buckets. It spilled from closets and cabinets. It covered the floor in plastic bags.
Gilroyans may remember the August 2010 raid of a three-bedroom house at 2250 Roop Road, just a mile east of the Gilroy Premium Outlets, when drug task forces from Sacramento and Gilroy Police found 612 pounds of methamphetamine valued at $100 million dollars, and arrested the three Mexican nationals who lived in the home.
Investigators called it the largest meth bust in the continental United States to date, though it has since been surpassed by a few other larger busts.
Two years after that seizure, the suspects are finally being sentenced – but are expected to face just 16 years in federal prison, according to court documents.
Sergio Murillo-Valencia, 36, Hector Salazar-Borrayo, 45, and Fabian Figueroa-Ayala, 30 have been in custody in Sacramento since the incident, and are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 4 in the United States District Court in Sacramento. After pleading guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to distribute at least 500 grams of meth (they were actually dealing with about 277,599 grams), the men struck a favorable plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that gives them low sentences for their crime, according to Mike Beckwith, prosecuting attorney for the case.
“If these guys were to go to trial they’d be looking at life sentences,” Beckwith said.
Beckwith is right – the penalty for their charges is at least 10 years, and up to life in prison – but because of their guilty plea, these men will likely face a weaker punishment.
“The government will recommend that the defendant be sentenced on the low end of the applicable guideline range for his offense,” read court documents for Murillo-Valencia. Salazar-Borrayo and Figueroa-Ayala have similar plea agreements.
After they complete their time in prison, Murillo-Valencia, Salazar-Borrayo and Figueroa-Ayala will be deported to Mexico, Beckwith said.
John McGinness, sheriff in Sacramento County in 2010 when Sacramento area task forces headed up the investigation that began in Sacramento but led detectives to Gilroy (he has since retired), said in a “perfect world” the three suspects would face longer sentences, but because of the prison crisis the nation faces, a 16-year sentence is “as good as it can get.”
The 16-year recommended sentencing from the plea agreement struck Jeff Roccaforte, Gilroy Police Officer who assisted with the Roop Road seizure, by surprise.
“We just had a guy here in Gilroy sentenced to 15 years, and he just had a quarter-pound of meth. Those guys had hundreds of pounds – doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of wiggle room there,” Roccaforte said.
But Roccaforte said without knowing the specifics on the case, he couldn’t comment on whether or not the potentially light sentence bothered him.
“A lot goes into the court process that I’m not aware of,” he said. “I just assisted with the arrest.”
Murillo-Valencia has a former drug felony charge for possession of a controlled substance for sale in 1996, according to court documents. Court documents indicate that the other two defendants do not have prior drug convictions.
The High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA) task force as well as the California Multi-agency Methamphetamine Enforcement Team (Cal-MMET) headed up the investigation of the Sacramento-based drug operation, which ultimately led detectives to Gilroy. HIDTA is comprised of investigators from Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, various other Sacramento law enforcement agencies and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and Cal-MMET is a conglomerate of Sacramento area law enforcement.
Joseph Miller, the Sacramento County Sheriff detective who was in charge of the investigation said the Roop Road house was used as a distribution warehouse as well as a crystallization center, where the drug in its powdery form was converted through a chemical process to become the popular street drug sometimes known as “glass.”
Miller said Sergio Murillo-Valencia, Hector Salazar-Borrayo, and Fabian Figueroa-Ayala had rented the house for about seven months at the time of the raid. The owners of the home were Gilroy residents (but one was in Mexico at the time of the seizure) who personally knew their renters, but detectives were ultimately unable to determine their involvement.
At 7 a.m. on Aug. 19, 2010, shortly after officers raided the drug house, and awoke Murillo-Valencia, Salazar-Borrayo and Figueroa-Ayala, the three men were arrested, court documents indicate.
In the house, investigators found receipts for the distribution of more than 3,300 pounds of meth in less than a five-month period, according to court documents. In addition, they obtained 15 pounds of cocaine and two semi-automatic handguns.
The Roop Road house was a hub for the La Familia cartel, Beckwith said.
“We really look at all the factors in cases like these when we determine these agreements,” he said. “We look at things like – was it some guy sitting on the meth, just watching the house, or was that person running the operation?”
In other words, the more responsibility a defendant had in the crime, the steeper the penalties prosecutors push for.
The real guy “running the show,” for the cartel, McGinness said, was Fausto Diaz of Sacramento, who was also arrested as a part of the investigation. It was through purchases of drugs from Diaz’ distribution centers in Sacramento that led detectives to the source of the goods – in Gilroy.
If a 16-year sentence seems low for someone guilty of distributing hundreds of pounds of crystal methamphetamine, Beckwith noted that because the case is federal, the defendants are expected to spend 85 percent of their sentence behind bars, instead of the typical 50 percent that state criminals typically serve.
Miller said he’s pleased with the defendant’s plea agreement.
Beckwith said there is still a chance that the court could reject the plea offer, in which the defendants would then have the chance to withdraw their guilty plea, rerouting the cases to trial, where they would face steeper sentences, Beckwith said.
McGinness, remembering the seizure as a “major bust” and a “huge deal,” for the entire state, lowered his voice over the phone and said, “You know, there’s not just garlic in Gilroy.”
The now-foreclosed house on Roop Road, unkempt, boarded up and fenced off, sits in contrast to its surroundings where rolling hills and pastures are littered with beautiful custom homes. County notices are posted all over the boarded-up windows and doors, prohibiting entry to the property that may still have a residue of toxic chemicals leftover from two years ago, when it had been used as a hub from which thousands of pounds of meth had been sold.