By one estimate, William De Roo-Ramirez drove more than 1,000 pounds of Mexican meth up to Minnesota in the months before his January arrest along an Oklahoma highway.
But on Wednesday, standing before a federal judge in Minneapolis, the 26-year-old Mexico native became the latest in an unending list of young men and women caught ferrying record amounts of the drug to the Upper Midwest at the behest of cartels many miles away.
“He drove a lot of drugs, he got in way over his head. But in the end … he was a driver, not a planner,” Kevin O’Brien, De Roo-Ramirez’s attorney, told the judge. “The people that sent him up here are sitting back in Mexico with complete impunity.”
Senior U.S. District Court Judge David Doty on Wednesday handed down more than 10 years in prison to a man ensnared in the biggest takedown of meth ever confirmed bound to Minnesota, a state hand-picked to serve as a key hub for Mexican cartel distribution in the region.
Doty agreed to grant a government motion to sentence De Roo-Ramirez to less time than called for under federal guidelines based on his “substantial assistance” in leading law enforcement to four other Twin Cities traffickers after his arrest earlier this year. But prosecutors declined to ask the judge to deviate from the mandatory minimum of 10 years based on the volume of meth De Roo-Ramirez trafficked and his possession of a gun in the car he used to drive the drugs north from Arizona.
A state trooper stopped De Roo-Ramirez and a 23-year-old woman who loaned him her car the morning of Jan. 18 based on a suspected license plate violation. After noting discrepancies in their answers, the trooper told De Roo-Ramirez that he would have a drug-sniffing dog examine the car.
“You don’t have to do that,” De Roo-Ramirez told the trooper, according to his attorney on Wednesday.
De Roo-Ramirez told the trooper he had a gun and a large load of meth in tow. He also admitted to previously driving meth from Arizona to Minnesota at least 15 times before his arrest, hauling between 60 to 70 pounds of meth each time. According to recently filed court papers, agents retrieved nearly 158 pounds of the drug from the car, slightly more than previously disclosed.
De Roo-Ramirez pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to distribute more than 500 grams of meth. Four other co-defendants are still awaiting sentencing following their guilty pleas in the case, including De Roo-Ramirez’s passenger, Maria Alondra Salas-Sanchez, and three Twin Cities traffickers to whom De Roo-Ramirez led agents after his arrest.
O’Brien said De Roo-Ramirez’s cooperation has “come at a very high price and put him and his family in danger.” Based on statements to law enforcement by others charged in the case, a manager from the Sinaloa cartel ordered the Twin Cities co-defendants to meet De Roo-Ramirez to take delivery of up to 50 pounds of meth that they were then instructed to turn over to another area trafficker.
Doty required barely 20 minutes to impose Ramirez’s 135-month sentence, as O’Brien and a prosecutor only briefly addressed the judge. O’Brien acknowledged asking for a shorter, 70-month term.
Though the biggest amount of meth seized on its way to Minnesota, authorities have acknowledged that cases like that of De Roo-Ramirez only likely disrupt the flow of meth coming here. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials in Minnesota estimate that authorities have historically stopped about 10 to 20 percent of meth coming to Minnesota. That figure was about 1,500 pounds last year. And barely a month after De Roo-Ramirez was arrested, a Texas trooper intercepted an 82-pound shipment suspected to be trafficked by the same cell.
De Roo-Ramirez’s entry into the drug trade began as an effort to pay down a debt incurred for help illegally crossing the border into California in 2012. From there, prosecutors said, he apparently moved into more serious, cross-country meth transportation.
“I know I will not be allowed to come back to this country and I respect that decision,” he told Doty on Wednesday.
O’Brien tried to point to a strong family support structure back in Mexico, where De Roo-Ramirez will likely be deported after serving his sentence, as reason to pursue a shorter penalty. O’Brien also helped De Roo-Ramirez describe to the judge a series of certificates he earned through his nearly eight months at Anoka County jail.
When he was 18, De Roo-Ramirez was kidnapped, held hostage and tortured by local gangs before his father secured his release by paying a $25,000 ransom. In previous court filings, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Hollenhorst acknowledged that the episode — and an otherwise “spotless criminal record” — mitigated the need for an even longer sentence.
Before De Roo-Ramirez could walk back to the U.S. marshals who would return him to custody, the prosecutor approached with an extended hand.
“Good luck to you,” Hollenhorst told De Roo-Ramirez. “Good luck to you.”