Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Mescalero Apache Man Pleads Guilty to Federal Methamphetamine Trafficking Charges
Defendant is One of 34 Individuals Charged as Part of Investigation into Methamphetamine Trafficking on the Mescalero Apache Reservation
ALBUQUERQUE – Alvino L. Saenz, 49, an enrolled member of the Mescalero Apache Nation who resides in Mescalero, N.M., pleaded guilty today in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., to a methamphetamine trafficking charge.
Saenz was one of 34 individuals charged in December 2015 with federal and tribal drug offenses as the result of an 18-month multi-agency investigation led by the DEA and BIA into methamphetamine trafficking on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Eighteen defendants, including five members of the Mescalero Apache Tribe and 13 non-Natives were charged in six federal indictments and a federal criminal complaint. Sixteen other members of the Mescalero Apache Tribe were charged in tribal criminal complaints approved by the Mescalero Apache Tribal Court.
The investigation leading to the federal and tribal charges was initiated in May 2014, in response to an increase in violent crime on the Mescalero Apache Reservation perpetrated by methamphetamine users. The investigation initially targeted a drug trafficking organization that was allegedly distributing methamphetamine within the Reservation, and later expanded to include two other drug trafficking organizations in southeastern New Mexico that allegedly served as sources of supply for the methamphetamine distributed within the Reservation. In Aug. 2014, the investigation was designated as part of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program, which combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations. The investigation is one of the first OCDETF investigations to utilize electronic surveillance (wiretaps) in Indian Country. More than ten kilograms of methamphetamine were seized during the course of the investigation.
Saenz was arrested on Dec. 11, 2015, on an indictment charging him with distributing methamphetamine in Otero County, N.M., on July 14, 2015. During today’s proceedings, Saenz entered a guilty plea to the indictment and admitted that on July 14, 2015, he sold .85 grams of pure methamphetamine to an individual who, unbeknownst to him, was an undercover law enforcement agent.
At sentencing, Saenz faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison followed by not less than three years of supervised release. Saenz remains in custody pending a sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled.
Saenz is the fifth of the 18 federal defendants to enter a guilty plea. The following federal defendants have previously pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing:
On March 9, 2016, Robin Lee Lovelace, 56, of Alamogordo, N.M., pled guilty to methamphetamine trafficking charges.Under the terms of her plea agreement, Lovelace will be sentenced to 12 years in federal prison followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court.
On March 3, 2016, Tandee Sheree Bettag, 38, of Alamogordo, pled guilty to methamphetamine trafficking charges.At sentencing, Bettag faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
On Feb. 17, 2016, Jerilyn Lee Munoz, 27, of Artesia, N.M., pled guilty to a money laundering conspiracy charge.At sentencing, Munoz faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison followed by not more than three years of supervised release.
Wallace Rice, 23, an enrolled member of the Mescalero Apache Nation who resides in Mescalero, N.M., pled guilty to a methamphetamine distribution charge on Feb. 5, 2016. At sentencing, Rice faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison followed by not less than three years of supervised release.
The remaining 13 federal defendants have entered not guilty pleas to the charges against them. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
The federal and tribal cases were investigated by the Las Cruces office of the DEA, District IV of the BIA’s Office of Justice Services (Mescalero Agency), BIA’s Division of Drug Enforcement, Mescalero Tribal Police Department, Hatch Police Department, FBI and Lea County Drug Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Terri J. Abernathy of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office is prosecuting the federal cases, and Mescalero Tribal Prosecutor Alta Braham is prosecuting the tribal cases.