Drug bust defendant sentenced to 2 years
A man arrested in connection with the Dec. 2 drug sweeps in downtown Aspen was sentenced to two years in prison Monday after his attorney lambasted the investigation as riddled with innuendo and rumors.Edubiel Hernandez-Cruz received seven months’ credit for time served, bringing his sentence for felony cocaine distribution down to 17 months. He likely will be deported after his prison term for entering the country illegally.Hernandez-Cruz was arrested after police found more than 3 ounces of cocaine in his apartment, along with a scale, packaging material and a powder often used to dilute the drug, said prosecutor Gail Nichols. Hernandez-Cruz pleaded guilty in April.Nichols said Hernandez-Cruz was seen quickly entering and exiting a bathroom where Drug Enforcement Agency agents observed drug deals.But defense attorney Chip McCrory angrily objected to that point, saying it was an insinuation, not fact, that illegal activities were taking place there.Nichols said Hernandez-Cruz also was observed getting into cars behind Cooper Street Pier, riding for a few blocks and then getting out. Local, state and federal authorities raided that bar and Little Annie’s Eating House during après-ski Dec. 2.The undercover operation, which is rare in Aspen, netted 10 arrests but garnered criticism for the way it was handled: at gunpoint and without the knowledge of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. Several suspects were sentenced to probation after prosecutors decided there was no evidence for many of the original conspiracy-to-distribute charges.McCrory said probation was the correct sentence in this case, as well. Hernandez-Cruz’s only crime – the actual distribution – was only $40 worth of cocaine sold to a DEA agent, he said.Hernandez-Cruz had no criminal history prior to this offense and was selling cocaine to feed his own drug habit, McCrory said. Those factors make his client eligible for probation, he contended, which is rare in drug-distribution cases.Nichols countered that prison, even for a first-time offender, was appropriate in this case. She said Hernandez-Cruz was selling drugs regularly from Cooper Street Pier, which since has closed. Nichols asked for a five-year sentence.”This was a business. This was something they did on a regular basis,” she said.McCrory said after the $40 sale, his client never sold drugs again during the course of “this earth-shaking investigation.” Investigators tried to link numerous suspects together for conspiracy charges, he said.The powder found in Hernandez-Cruz’s apartment, which authorities call a cutting agent, was actually a nutritional supplement, McCrory said. He also gave Judge James Boyd a letter supporting his client from Aspen resident Toni Kronberg, who worked with Hernandez-Cruz in the course of physical therapy.There is “no basis for recommending five years in prison,” McCrory said. He noted the sentencing hearing before Hernandez-Cruz’s in which a man received a three-year prison term for breaking a youth’s jaw (see related story, page A3). His client had done nothing more than sell $40 worth of cocaine.Five years “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said. McCrory estimated that that term could cost state taxpayers as much as $300,000, after which Hernandez-Cruz will deported. That would be a monumental waste of money, the defense attorney said.He asked Boyd to give Hernandez-Cruz credit for time served, four years of probation and allow him to be deported.Hernandez-Cruz submitted a statement that an interpreter read. He apologized for breaking the law and entering the United States illegally, and also asked to be deported so he could care for his elderly parents.”Please, I ask you to forgive me,” he said.Boyd said the information about Hernandez-Cruz’s involvement in the larger case was “sketchy” and acknowledged that the defendant’s actions were only a small part in the overall drug network.But the amount of cocaine seized from his apartment is significant, Boyd added, and suggests “you were selling drugs.” The evidence suggests Hernandez-Cruz has a drug problem, which is a mitigating factor, the judge said. Boyd also cited the immigration hold and Kronberg’s letter in sentencing him to two years with credit for time served.The two remaining cases stemming from the Dec. 2 drug busts also involve cocaine distribution charges. Fernando Leal-Ruiz is scheduled for trial in September on charges of distribution, possession and conspiracy to distribute the drug. Jose de Jesus Velasco-Estrada pleaded not guilty to money laundering, cocaine distribution and conspiracy to distribute. His trial is set for the end of October.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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