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Meth evidence suppressed in Bloomfield drug-trafficking case

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A district court judge last week suppressed as evidence nearly three pounds of methamphetamine seized from a business in Bloomfield.

The evidence was set to be used at the trial of Daniel Prieto-Lozoya, who was arrested on Oct. 3, 2013, after allegedly selling methamphetamine to a confidential informant.

According to the arrest warrant, another confidential informant told police that Prieto-Lozoya also distributed methamphetamine from a garage in Bloomfield where he ran a car painting business.

Region II Narcotics Taskforce agents went to the business, located at 1427 S. Bloomfield Blvd., and found the 2.8 pounds of methamphetamine concealed in a wooden box, the warrant states.

However, Judge John Dean ruled on March 27 that the agents failed to get Prieto-Lozoya's consent or obtain a search warrant prior to searching the box, thereby tainting the evidence seized in the search.

Prieto-Lozoya's attorney, Steve Murphy, said Dean's decision meant that the case against Prieto-Lozoya, who was charged with first-degree felony drug trafficking, is effectively dead.

"If you have an expectation of privacy in a box, briefcase or footlocker, you have an expectation of privacy," Murphy said. "The police can't just open it."

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said his office is in a discussion with the New Mexico Attorney General's Office about the case and may appeal Dean's decision.

O'Brien admitted that officers erred by not simply obtaining a search warrant for the box.

According to Region II Narcotics Taskforce director Phil Goodwin, a gram of methamphetamine has a street value of $80 to $120. Three pounds of methamphetamine is therefore worth approximately $100,000 to $150,000 if packaged and sold on the street.

Goodwin declined to comment directly on the Prieto-Lozoya case.

According to court records, task force agents received permission to search the premises from Prieto-Lozoya's stepfather, who owned the property where the methamphetamine was concealed.

The agents quickly found the box, the warrant states, and Prieto-Lozoya's stepfather gave agents permission to search it, claiming it belonged to him. The box was locked with two separate combination locks, according to a police report, and agents were required to remove the box's hinges to open it.

Dean said in his written order the agents should have known the box did not belong to the stepfather, and Prieto-Lozoya established a clear expectation of privacy by double locking the box.

Prieto-Lozoya remains in custody in connection to an unrelated identity theft case, according to court records.

He is expected to appear at trial in that case in June.

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