It is the largest methamphetamine seizure ever by the Anoka-Hennepin drug task force, with a possible street value of $1 million. But did the 18.5 pounds of meth belong to Cesar Fletes-Ortiz or to a housemate who'd earlier been caught selling to an undercover agent, as Fletes-Ortiz's attorney contends?
As an Anoka County jury sat across the courtroom Friday from a carton containing an estimated 100,000 doses of the drug, the attorney for Fletes-Ortiz, 21, argued that it was his client's housemate who possessed and intended to sell the methamphetamine, not Fletes-Ortiz. An Anoka County prosecutor countered, saying that Fletes-Ortiz may not have "exclusively" possessed the drugs but that he knew that the drugs were in his home and intended to sell them.
The amount seized — discovered in a safe, along with three weapons, a detailed ledger book, cash and a digital scale — was "far in excess of what anybody would have for personal use," prosecutor Paul Ostrow said in the opening statements of a trial expected to last well into next week.
But Fletes-Ortiz's attorney, Clayton Tyler, said his client was "merely the housemate of an individual who got caught selling drugs."
Fletes-Ortiz, of Anoka, is charged with two counts of first-degree possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. If convicted of either felony, he could serve up to 30 years and be fined as much as $1 million.
Tyler told the jury that Fletes-Ortiz's housemate was caught selling 2.5 ounces of methamphetamine to an undercover agent last August. The housemate then told the officer that there were 18 to 20 pounds of the drug in a safe, Tyler said. The housemate gave the officer the combination to the safe and then agreed to return to the house wearing a wire, Tyler told the jury. The housemate implied that it was Fletes-Ortiz who was dealing.
At 1 p.m. Aug. 22 — six hours after the undercover agent initially confronted the housemate — police entered the Anoka house that Fletes-Ortiz and the other man rented.
According to court documents, a SWAT team with a search warrant found a $5 bill coated with a white substance that tested positive for methamphetamine in Fletes-Ortiz's bedroom. In the lower level, where Tyler said the housemate lived, officers found a gun safe that contained two black garbage bags.
Within the first garbage bag were four containers of methamphetamine, each container weighing more than 1,100 grams. The second bag also had four containers of methamphetamine, three of them weighing about 1,100 grams and the fourth weighing half that. The total amount seized was 8,308 grams — or 18.54 pounds, the documents said.
Along with the methamphetamine, which officers said was worth $500,000 to $1 million on the street, authorities found $10,000 in cash, according to the documents. They also found in the safe a rifle, a Glock .40 caliber handgun loaded with 13 bullets and a shotgun.
Cash and fancy furniture
Tyler said Fletes-Ortiz's fingerprints were not found inside the safe. He painted a picture of Fletes-Ortiz's housemate having a lavish lifestyle, with $1,800 in cash in one of his drawers, another $500 in his wallet and fancy furniture on the floor in which he lived. The furniture on Fletes-Ortiz's floor was modest. When police found him at the house, Fletes-Ortiz had $148 in his pants pocket, Tyler said.
There were not weapons or drug paraphernalia on the floor in which Fletes-Ortiz lived, Tyler told the jury.
As for the traces of the drug on the $5 bill, Tyler said that his client was "at most a user" of a small amount of drugs.
"It's not my safe," Tyler said his client told police. "I don't know" anything, he told them.
Fletes-Ortiz wore headphones throughout the testimony as two interpreters translated for him in Spanish.
The trial opened a day after the release of a report on drug abuse in the Twin Cities area that found an increase in methamphetamine use from 2012 to the first half of 2013, among other developments.