A Phoenix woman who was caught transporting 66 pounds of methamphetamine was sentenced Thursday in 6th Judicial District Court to five years in prison, the maximum allowed under the terms of a plea agreement.
Doris Beltran, 33, sat in a chair and sobbed after 6th Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson handed down the sentence. She glanced back at family members seated in the courtroom gallery and held up five fingers to indicate the number of years.
She was allowed to hug family members and say goodbye before being taken into custody. Prior to that, she was free on bail. She will receive credit for four days already served.
On Nov. 8, Beltran and her co-defendant, Juan Valdez-Nuñez, were stopped by a Colorado State Patrol Trooper on U.S. Highway 160 just east of Bayfield.
The trooper, R.A. Howell with CSP’s Smuggling and Trafficking Interdiction Section, said he observed the vehicle weaving within her lane and impeding traffic by driving 44 mph in a 60 mph zone.
She also had a passenger in the vehicle, identified as Juan Valdez-Nuñez, 47.
Beltran provided an expired insurance card and expired registration, according to an arrest affidavit.
Shortly after the CSP trooper made contact with Beltran, a La Plata County Sheriff’s Office K-9 handler appeared on scene.
The trooper asked Beltran to step out of the vehicle and asked if she had any weapons. Beltran said she had a gun in her purse.
Beltran and Valdez-Nuñez were separated by law enforcement, and they gave different stories about where they were headed. The drug-detection dog on scene alerted to the presence of narcotics in the vehicle, according to the affidavit.
Law enforcement determined they had probable cause to search the vehicle. They found a large white bag with a large number of individually wrapped packages containing a white crystalline substance that later tested positive for methamphetamine. Other packages containing meth were found hidden throughout the vehicle, according to the affidavit.
Beltran and Valdez-Nuñez were both charged with felonies on suspicion of possession with intent to distribute, but Beltran was also charged with possessing a firearm during the commission of another offense.
Prosecutors offered Beltran and Valdez-Nuñez plea agreements calling for probation. Sixth Judicial District Judge Nathaniel Baca accepted the plea agreement for Valdez-Nuñez, but Carlson rejected the plea agreement for Beltran, saying it was almost like prosecutors “didn’t know how much drugs there were” before offering the plea deal.
Prosecutors returned Thursday with a new plea agreement calling for up to five years in prison, which Carlson accepted.
In a previous interview, District Attorney Christian Champagne defended the plea agreements calling for probation, saying complicating factors were involved in the two cases. Such factors included how the evidence was collected and whether it was done legally.
He said Beltran and Valdez-Nuñez appeared to be working as drug mules as opposed to high-level operatives in a drug-smuggling ring, but noted the duo lacked any significant criminal history.
Assistant District Attorney Sean Murray, who this week announced he is running for district attorney, was a bit more blunt in his assessment.
“It’s wrong,” he said of the plea agreements. “ ... (Judge Carlson) did what was right, and it's mixed up that we've got two co-defendants getting such different outcomes. It shouldn't have happened.”
Beltran’s public defense attorney, Kellan Schmelz, offered an ardent defense for why his client deserved probation, including her lack of criminal history, that she is not a drug user or dealer and that Valdez-Nuñez received probation.
He said Beltran is a mother who was struggling for money. The one-time offer to transport drugs seemed like “pennies from heaven,” he said.
Had the case advanced toward trial, Schmelz said there would have been a high likelihood of evidence being suppressed, including the seizure of 66 pounds of meth, because of the nature of the stop, which he seemed to suggest lacked probable cause.
Deputy District Attorney Justin Howard Pierce disagreed with the characterization that law enforcement lacked probable cause or covered anything up with respect to the nature of the traffic stop.
He asked Carlson to sentence Beltran to five years in prison.
“These aren’t pennies from heaven,” he said. “These are pennies from hell.”
Beltran was given a chance to address the court, but her attorney said she was too emotional to offer a statement.
Carlson said she compared Beltran’s case with similar cases, including a defendant with no criminal history who was caught transporting 4 pounds of meth. That defendant received eight years in prison, she said.
Carlson expressed a degree of frustration about the appearance of fairness and uniformity in the judicial system knowing that Valdez-Nuñez received probation, but she said if the federal government feels it needs to make things more fair, it can still file charges against Beltran and/or Valdez-Nuñez.
She said the drugs had a street value of $1.2 million. She wondered how many people could have become lifelong addicts had the shipment hit the streets.