A methamphetamine dealer and cohort are headed to federal prison for operating their clandestine business out of a downtown Minneapolis luxury high-rise apartment building.
Gonzalo Jiminez-Paz Jr., 23, of Minneapolis, received a 14-year sentence Wednesday in in Minneapolis, while Rey David Luna-Santillanes, 23, also of Minneapolis, was given 5 years.
“Mr. Jiminez-Paz ran a significant drug trafficking operation here in Minnesota,” U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said in a statement announcing the sentencings. “He employed a network of distributors, including his co-defendant Mr. Luna-Santillanes, who helped push dangerous drugs into our cities.
“This type of criminal activity threatens the health and safety of our communities and will be met with lengthy prison sentences.”
Both defendants entered guilty pleas earlier. Upon release from prison, Jiminez-Paz Jr., will be on five years of supervised release and two for Luna-Santillanes.
In presentence filings, prosecutors argued that Jiminez-Paz should serve more than 17 years in prison, pointing out that he “was not a courier. Defendant was not a mule. Defendant was not a lowly ‘mope.’ Defendant was running a drug organization in Minnesota.”
The defense countered that a 10-year prison sentence would be more appropriate, citing that Jiminez-Paz Jr. has taken responsibility for his crimes and his lack of a criminal history prior to this case.
In presentence filings concerning Luna-Santillanes, his defense argued for a term of less than three years, noting among other things the loss of his fiancée and the child she was carrying two years ago in a traffic crash in California. The prosecution pushed for a sentence of nearly six years.
Roughly 64 pounds of meth, other illicit drugs, loaded guns and wads of cash totaling nearly $33,000 were seized in March from an eighth-floor residence in the Churchill Apartments, on Marquette Avenue across the street from U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration offices.
The 31-story Churchill bills itself as “an elite address for those with a taste for luxury.” The one-bedroom apartment where the raid occurred rented at the time for about $1,550 a month.
Law enforcement officers recovered roughly 64 pounds of meth, “a large sum of U.S. currency,” 3 pounds of heroin, a bag of unidentified blue pills, two loaded handguns, dozens of rounds of ammunition, and 11 cellphones, according to court filings in the case.
The meth was in two suitcases in a closet, the heroin was in a shoe box, and the cash was in a kitchen cupboard, the criminal complaint read. Officers arrested Jiminez-Paz and Luna-Santillanes inside the apartment, the charges said.
A confidential informant who cooperated with authorities in the case described Jiminez-Paz as being “part of a Mexican-based drug-trafficking organization that is distributing large quantities of methamphetamine in Minnesota,” said a search warrant affidavit filed in Hennepin County District Court.
The Twin Cities has become a major market in the United States for meth distribution. Many of those caught supplying Minnesota’s meth have had direct ties to major, internationally known drug cartels in southern Mexico.
Less than a week before the raid, investigators received “reliable information” from the informant that Jiminez-Paz intended to travel to California to coordinate a large shipment of meth bound for Minnesota, the affidavit filed by a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy revealed.