Written by The Herald-News
The United States Attorney’s Office announced that during a federal court session in Billings, on July 18, 2013, before U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon, Eliseo Lopez Martinez, a 49-year-old resident of Turlock, Calif., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.
Sentencing has been set for Oct. 21. He is currently detained.
In an offer of proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph E. Thaggard and Brendan P. McCarthy, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
In late 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Agency; the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation; U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; various drug task forces based in Billings; the Billings Police Department; the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department; and the Montana Highway Patrol began to investigate the widespread distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin in an area stretching from Billings to the Bakken oil fields of northeastern Montana and western North Dakota.
In March, the Idaho State Police also joined the investigation.
As part of the investigation, on March 1, the Montana Highway Patrol stopped a vehicle driven by an unindicted coconspirator on Interstate 90 near Park City. The vehicle was subsequently searched and found to contain one-quarter pound of methamphetamine and a quantity of heroin the unindicted coconspirator said consisted of 80 grams.
The unindicted coconspirator admitted to distributing large amounts of heroin and methamphetamine. The unindicted coconspirator stated that the sources of supply for the drugs were “Mateo” and “Tomas.” The descriptions provided by the unindicted conspirator of “Mateo” and “Tomas” matched those people known to law enforcement officers in Billings as Martinez and Tomas Alvarado.
On March 11, Idaho State Police stopped a vehicle driven by Alvarado in Power County, Idaho. An adult female was a passenger in the vehicle. Alvarado said he and the passenger had driven from Billings to Nevada the previous day and were returning to Billings.
A search of the vehicle ensued. The authorities found a .40 caliber handgun, three gross pounds of a substance that yielded a presumptive Narcotics Identification Kit test result for the presence of methamphetamine and two gross pounds of a substance that yielded a positive NIK test result for the presence of cocaine.
On March 12, the authorities, acting under the authority of a search warrant, searched a residence in Billings occupied by Martinez. The officers recovered three handguns, over $56,000 in United States currency, two pounds of suspected cocaine, six pounds of suspected methamphetamine and over 100 grams of suspected heroin.
The officers also searched a motor vehicle at or near Martinez’s residence in Billings. That vehicle was associated with Martinez. The officers found 16 total firearms, including handguns, shotguns and rifles — including two semi-automatic, SKS assault-style rifles — in the vehicle.
Martinez was taken into custody when the search warrant was executed on March 12. When interviewed, he stated he had moved to Montana two or three months earlier as part of plan whereby he and Alvarado distributed methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and marijuana in the Billings area. Martinez estimated that he and Alvarado had sold approximately 25 pounds of methamphetamine over the preceding two months.
On March 12, the authorities also interviewed Alvarado. He stated that he and Martinez had distributed methamphetamine in Billings since approximately October 2012 and moved to Billings in November 2012 as part of the distribution scheme. Alvarado detailed that, between October 2012 and March 12, he and Martinez distributed at least 80 pounds of methamphetamine to subordinate drug dealers in Montana.
Martinez faces possible penalties of life in prison, a $10,000,000 fine and five years supervised release.
Alvarado pleaded guilty to federal charges and is awaiting sentencing.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the DEA; the FBI; the ATF; and the Montana DCI.