January 22, 2013
US Department of Justice
Drug Traffickers Racing to Receive Lower State Sentences, Fail to Avoid Federal Prosecution
Francisco Hernandez-Figueroa, age 29, from San Rafael, Mexico and Jaime Eugene Muniz, age 28, from Sacramento, California, were both sentenced to federal prison for possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it. U.S. District Judge Owen M. Panner sentenced Hernandez-Figueroa to 120 months in prison and Muniz to 60 months in prison for each of their drug trafficking offenses, both of their sentences to be served concurrently to their remaining prison terms they received from their state court convictions in 2011.
On March 16, 2011, an Oregon State Police officer stopped Muniz for a traffic violation while driving northbound on Interstate 5. Following the stop, the officer observed numerous things based on his training and experience that were typical of those trafficking in narcotics. A drug detection canine alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle and, upon searching, the officer located a hidden compartment built into the center console area with an electronic locking mechanism. The officer discovered eight packages wrapped in black tape inside the compartment. Later laboratory analysis and iinvestigation revealed that the packages contained over 10 lbs of pure methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $600,700, all destined for Portland, Oregon.
On March 20, 2011, in a separate and unrelated incident, an Oregon State Police officer stopped Hernandez-Figueroa's car on Interstate 5 after observing a traffic violation. Following the stop, the officer observed numerous things based on his training and experience that were typical of those trafficking in narcotics. When the vehicle was searched, the officer determined that the vehicle was equipped with a sophisticated electronic activation system leading to two separate hidden compartments located behind side panels in the rear passenger compartment. The activation system included push button switches hidden in the steering column with switch activation when adjusting the driver's seat. Offices eventually gained access to the hidden compartments and discovered a total of 16 packages wrapped in black duct tape. Later laboratory analysis and investigationed revealed the packages contained over 15 lbs of pure crystal methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $870,000, destined for Seattle, Washington. Officers also learned that $4,500 in crisp $100 bills that Hernandez-Figueroa was carrying was part of his drug trafficking activity and that he had illegally entered the United States recently for the specific purpose of trafficking in methamphetamine.
Within a few days of their arrest, and based on advise from their defense attorneys, both Muniz and Hernandez-Figueroa immediately demanded to plead guilty and be sentenced in state court on drug charges before their cases could be reviewed by the United States Attorney's Office in an attempt to avoid federal prosecution and longer federal prison terms. Muniz and Hernandez-Figueroa were both sentenced to the Oregon Department of Corrections for terms of 59 months and 60 months, respectively.
"The United States Attorney's Office will not be deterred in pursuing cases against drug traffickers who attempt to avoid federal prosecution by racing to state court to plead guilty," said S. Amanda Marshall, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon. "These were some of the largest seizures of nearly 100% pure methamphetamine in southern Oregon. The Department of Justice authorized our prosecution because the state convictions and sentences did not adequately vindicate the interest the United States has in prosecuting major drug traffickers."
Sentencing documents noted that these two defendants were squarely in the middle of the chain of distribution of a significant amount of pure methamphetamine and sufficiently connected into the drug traffficking organization that entrusted them with a significant amount of valuable load of illicit drugs on more than one occasion. Both Muniz and Hernandez-Figueroa have since filed for post-conviction relief in Jackson County Circuit Court to set aside their state convictions alleging a substantial constitutional violation related to inadequate defense attorney professional performance.
The cases were investigated by the Oregon State Police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Byron Chatfield.