WORTHINGTON ― An Arizona resident who was caught transporting about 25 pounds of methamphetamine into Minnesota received his sentence Monday afternoon.
Emilio Nieto, 23, of Bullhead City, Arizona, was arrested Jan. 13, along with co-defendant Vanessa Aguilar, when police discovered 25 pounds of meth in the duo's vehicle. Both were charged with first-degree possession of a controlled substance, importing controlled substances across state lines and conspiracy to import controlled substances across state lines, all felonies.
At a Sep. 3 court trial, Fifth Judicial District Judge Darci Bentz examined the evidence and found Nieto guilty of all three charges.
He appeared for his sentencing Monday. At the hearing, Bentz explained that while convicted of all three offenses, Nieto can only be sentenced for one of them, since they were all part of a single course of conduct.
Bentz decided to sentence him on Count 2, importing controlled substances across state lines, for which the recommended sentence ranges from 74 to 103 months in prison. Since Nieto has no prior criminal history, Minnesota sentencing guidelines state that the presumptive (usual) sentence is 86 months.
Nieto's defense attorney, Philip Elbert, filed a motion for Bentz to grant a downward dispositional departure, asking that Nieto be allowed to serve probation rather than prison time.
Assistant Nobles County Attorney Roland Henry argued that "there are no substantial or compelling circumstances" that would make a departure appropriate. He also noted the quantity of meth ― "a significant amount more than is required for a conviction of Count 2 or 3." He asked Bentz to sentence Nieto to 103 months, the upper limit of the recommended range.
Nieto also asked for mercy, saying, "I have never been in jail. I have never been in a problem like this one. I have never hurt anyone."
"I understand that you have no prior criminal record and have never been involved in the criminal justice system to this extent before," Bentz told Nieto. However, she added, Nieto was aware of the drugs in the vehicle and had multiple opportunities to choose not to participate in their transport, which is an indication that he is not amenable to probation.
Bentz agreed with Henry that it was not reasonable to grant a departure from sentencing guidelines. She sentenced Nieto to 86 months in prison, with credit for 309 days previously served.