ST. GEORGE — A man arrested in St. George for trafficking what federal prosecutors described as a “staggering” amount of narcotics is going to prison.

The United States District Court for the District of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of US Department of Justice, St. George News

According to a statement released by the Department of Justice, Sergio Antonio Silva-Gonzalez, 24, a Mexican National from Denver, Colorado, was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court to 92 months in federal prison on one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The sentence also includes four years of post-prison supervision.

The case stems from a traffic stop on March 14, 2022, when an officer heading north on Interstate 15 near Exit 2 shortly before 7 p.m. observed a dark red passenger car with its turn signal activated as it passed multiple vehicles but never merged into the fast lane, according to the probable cause statement filed at the time of the arrest.

The vehicle was stopped just south of the Brigham Road exit after the officer observed a number of alleged lane violations. The driver was identified as Gonzalez by the passport he handed over to police that was issued out of Mexico, and officers also learned the suspect was a resident of Denver.

A K-9 indicated the possible presence of narcotics in the suspect’s vehicle, and in the trunk, officers found a fruit box and suitcase that contained 140 pounds of methamphetamine, along with a kilo of cocaine. The Taurus handgun that turned out to be stolen was recovered from inside of a blue Nautica bag.

During the stop, the Homeland Security Investigations agent responded to the scene and determined Gonzalez was in the country illegally with no ties to Utah or to the United States, according to the report, and was found in possession of not only a “very large quantity” of suspected narcotics but a stolen firearm as well.

State case goes federal 

A month after the arrest, Gonzalez was indicted in federal court on one count each of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and carrying a firearm in relation to drug trafficking.

The case proceeded towards trial with a series of hearings for the next 19 months, until Sept. 5, when the possession of cocaine and firearm charges were dropped and one week later the defendant pleaded guilty to the methamphetamine distribution charge.

Stock image of courtroom inside of 5th District Court in St. George, Utah | St. George News

Sentencing hearing 

In a statement released by the Department of Justice on Thursday, District Court Chief Judge Robert J. Shelby said, “It is mind-blowing to think about the downstream effects of this amount of drugs in the community,” and added that substantial sentences are necessary for people to understand the risks of trafficking drugs.

During the sentencing hearing, the defendant admitted to possessing approximately 141 pounds of methamphetamine, and federal prosecutors also stated that that Gonzalez was in the United States illegally at the time of his arrest.

United States Attorney Trina A. Higgins said in the statement that “community safety is a top priority,” adding that the amount of narcotics the defendant attempted to bring into the state is a threat to the safety and lives of the citizens.

Assistant U.S. Attorney, Brady Wilson, the federal prosecutor who represented the government during hearing, stated during the hearing,” The amount of drugs is staggering. Adding the stolen firearm makes it downright disturbing,” as noted in the statement.

Project Safe Neighborhoods 

Launched in 2001, the Project Safe Neighborhoods program is a nationwide initiative that brings together federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials, prosecutors, community leaders and other stakeholders to reduce violent crime and gun violence. It is a coordinated effort by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the 94 federal judicial districts throughout the 50 states and U.S. territories.

On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy that strengthened the safe neighborhood program that includes community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

For illustrative purposes only, photo shows 100 pounds of methamphetamine seized by law enforcement during three traffic stops, Aug. 26, 2019 Photo courtesy of Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

The pipeline and the U.S. border 

At the time of the defendant’s arrest last year, the Homeland Security Investigations agent determined that Gonzalez was in the country illegally with no ties to Utah or the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mexico is the main producer of the supply of the drug in the U.S., and the amount that is being manufactured and then making its way into the country has been on the rise. Moreover, the number of methamphetamine-related overdose deaths has also seen a spike in recent years.

In fact, the CDC estimates there were roughly 33,800 methamphetamine-related fatal overdoses during a 12-month period ending in October 2022, which is a “significant increase over the past several years.”

In a similar case reported last week, four Mexican Nationals were arrested after deputies recovered more than 22.4 pounds of fentanyl pills in Kane County. The narcotics were reportedly destined for Salt Lake City, and the occupants appeared to be in the United States illegally.

Two of the suspects were charged in federal court for their alleged involvement in what FBI Special Agent Michael Vollmer said was a “trafficking organization,” as reported by St. George News . 

Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Anne Milgram testified in a Senate hearing in March that in 2022, the DEA seized more than 57 million fake fentanyl pills, in addition to more than 13,000 pounds of illicit fentanyl which is equivalent to 410 million deadly doses.

Milligan also said the Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels and their affiliates control the vast majority of the fentanyl global supply chain and pose the “greatest criminal drug threat the United States has ever faced.”

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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