Convictions continue from "Brown ICE" investigation

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Isaac Anaya will be sentenced next week on drug trafficking charges that resulted from one of the largest law enforcement investigations launched in San Juan County in recent years.

The multiagency "Brown ICE" investigation that unraveled Anaya's meth trafficking operation last February has thus far resulted in 20 convictions, including 11 federal convictions, and the seizure of thousands of dollars in cash, dozens of firearms and several pounds of methamphetamine.

Assistant District Attorney David Cowen is responsible for prosecuting the 16 cases filed in state court. He said the investigation was "extremely successful" at both the state and federal level.

According to federal court records, a single defendant, Richard Archuleta, agreed as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors to forfeit 67 pistols, shotguns and rifles seized from his residence on Feb. 26, 2014.

Archuleta, 33, of Bloomfield, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and faces up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines at a sentencing hearing scheduled for April 7.

Another coconspirator, Brandon Smith, was arrested on Aug. 31, 2013, in possession of almost two pounds of methamphetamine, worth more than $100,000 if packaged and sold on the street.

Smith was sentenced in February to five years in prison after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Anaya, 30, of Farmington, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to sell methamphetamine and faces the same maximum sentence as Archuleta at sentencing.

However, Anaya's public defender, Brian Pori, is asking a federal judge to sentence his client to less than six years in prison, arguing that Anaya's abusive childhood, drug addiction and compulsive gambling led him to a life of drug dealing.

Anaya claims in a sentencing report filed in January that in 2013 he was using an average of 7 grams of meth a day and won, and subsequently lost, $250,000 at Sun Ray Casino in that same year.

Anaya admits that he began selling drugs to support his "monstrous addictions," but denies that he was the head of a methamphetamine trafficking organization or that he sold the quantity of meth alleged by prosecutors, according to the report.

Multiple federal co-conspirators say otherwise, claiming in plea agreements that they served under Anaya in a meth trafficking conspiracy.

Neil Haws was director of the Region II Narcotics Taskforce during the investigation into Anaya. He retired from law enforcement last summer.

"Of course he is going to deny it," Haws said. "If I was looking at 20 years, I am going to deny everything, too."

He said the investigation took almost a year to complete and was built through the hard work of local and federal agents.

Haws declined to provide the specifics of the case, but said narcotics taskforce agents were able to first penetrate Anaya's inner circle in spring 2013.

Anaya had been on law enforcement's radar for years, Haws said. Anaya was a reputed Mexican Cartel-connected drug dealer tied to several violent incidents in San Juan County, but never convicted on substantive charges, he said.

"We were hearing about that guy back when I was a rookie," Haws said. "But he always managed to slip through our fingers."

Haws said after penetrating Anaya's group, the taskforce approached the Department of Homeland Security and requested assistance in bringing down the trafficking organization.

The department delivered, providing financial resources, expertise and tools otherwise unavailable to the taskforce, including a key feature of the investigation — a wire tap.

"A wire tap, a Title III investigation — you just can't do that at a local level," Haws said. "It costs so much money, the resources just aren't there."

Haws said agents spent months exhausting all other means of investigating the drug trafficking group before utilizing the wire tap, however, as required by federal law.

That included surveillance, the use of confidential informants and pressuring low-level dealers to turn on dealers higher up, Haws said.

The wire tap, when it was active, provided valuable intelligence, allowing prosecutors to bring conspiracy charges against the top-tier drug traffickers, including Anaya, Archuleta and Julia Oros, a Pheonix-based drug dealer who prosecutors allege served as Anaya's connection to Mexican meth traffickers.

On Feb. 26, 2014, federal agents and local law enforcement officers served 11 search warrants at businesses and residences throughout San Juan County and arrested 29 people on suspicion of trafficking methamphetamine.

"I was personally really satisfied," Haws said.

Current Region II Narcotics Taskforce Director Phil Goodwin said that whenever a large scale drug dealer is arrested, an impact is felt on the street, and Anaya was no exception.

It was harder for users to get methamphetamine after Anaya's arrest and the price of meth rose as a result. However, it only lasts a while, he said.

"People complained about the availability, but after a while, someone else steps up and takes over the business," Goodwin said.

Oros was scheduled to be sentenced today in federal court in Albuquerque for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. However, her sentencing hearing was delayed and a new date has not yet been set.

Archuleta is scheduled for sentencing on April 7 and Anaya on Monday, both in Albuquerque federal courts.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.