SALT LAKE CITY — A California man was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison Thursday for transporting drugs in what is believed to be the largest meth bust in Utah history.
Osiel Ruvalcaba-Azpietia was sentenced to 135 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release by U.S. District Judge David Sam. Ruvalcaba-Azpietia pleaded guilty to a single count of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine in April.
On May 20, 2012, Ruvalcaba-Azpietia was arrested after 56 pounds of methamphetamine was seized from a 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser he was driving.
Drug Enforcement Administration officials said it was Utah's most significant preplanned meth bust as all of the drugs were to be distributed in Utah and had an estimated street value of between $4 million and $6 million.
Defense attorney Hunt Garner said his client was little more than a mule who didn't realize how much meth he was transporting. He said Ruvalcaba-Azpietia had no criminal history and decided to transport the drugs to help his family, which was struggling financially.
He knew what he was doing. He knew he was transporting drugs for money. … He knew what he was doing was wrong.
"He's really not involved with the drug cartel, he's not a foot soldier of the drug cartel," Garner said. "He basically told police everything he knew. … He came clean. That is not the action of an inveterate drug smuggler."
Assistant U.S. attorney Vernon Stejskal pointed, though, to the amount of drugs that was to be distributed in Utah and could have caused harm to those in the community. He also said Ruvalcaba-Azpietia went to Mexico to get work running drugs.
"He knew what he was doing," Stejskal said. "He knew he was transporting drugs for money. … He knew what he was doing was wrong."
Around 15 friends and family members came from California to support Ruvalcaba-Azpietia at the hearing. The man's mother said the sentencing came down on her son's 26th birthday.
"I made a mistake, I'm paying a big price for that decision" Ruvalcaba-Azpietia said, before apologizing. "I regret it."
At the time of his arrest, Ruvalcaba-Azpietia told DEA officials that he was promised $500 per pound to transfer the meth from Orange County to Utah, court records state. He said he was transporting the drugs for a man named Juan in Mexico in order to get money for college and to pay for surgery for his mother.
Stejskal asked that the judge impose the 135-month sentence, which he said fell in the low end of the sentencing guideline range, as a deterrent. He said the sentence was sufficiently harsh while acknowledging that Ruvalcaba-Azpietia didn't own the drugs.
"Mr. Ruvalcaba chose drug trafficking as an easy way to make a quick buck and there are consequences for that," he said.
Garner had asked for a five-year sentence but said his client could have been sentenced to up to life in prison.
"What's just so frustrating to me is you get these drug kingpins making millions pumping this poison into our society and they assume no risk," the defense attorney said. "The people who assume the risk are people like Osiel. … They're expendable. They're a perishable commodity."