GOSHEN — An Elkhart man convicted of selling methamphetamine as the head of a smuggling and distribution ring was sentenced to 36 years in prison Thursday, even as his attorney pushed for a new trial on the claim that a key witness lied.
Luis Jaquez, 57, received a 30-year sentence for each of two counts of dealing meth as a Level 2 felony, to be served simultaneously, and a six-year sentence for corrupt business influence, a Level 5 felony, to be served consecutive to those. A jury had deliberated for less than an hour before it found him guilty at a trial in November.
Authorities say he was the leader of a network that brought meth into the county hidden inside the wheels of vehicles that passed through an auto shop being used as a front. He was arrested along with other members of the ring following an investigation that began in 2015 and culminated in a simultaneous police raid across the county in November 2016.
The other men and women who were convicted on various charges related to their involvement in the operation have already been sentenced, including 29-year-old Jorge Moreida, who testified at Jaquez's trial as a condition of his plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to dealing meth as a Level 2 felony and corrupt business influence and received a sentence of four years in prison followed by four on electronic monitoring and 12-1/2 years on probation.
Jaquez's attorney, Vincent Campiti, told the judge Thursday that he obtained several letters written by Moreida in which he stated that he knew Jaquez had nothing to do with the operation but had to lie in order to receive less prison time. Campiti said he obtained the letters months after the trial had taken place but could have used them to attack his credibility on the witness stand.
Combined with Moreida not appearing in any surveillance footage of Jaquez's house despite claiming to have gone there frequently, he said the letters prove the man lied. He asked that the sentencing be postponed so a hearing could be held to discuss the letters along with other evidence, including a claim that Moreida has prior convictions under an alias, and raised the prospect of a new trial being held.
Elkhart County Prosecutor Don Pitzer argued against the request, saying the state isn't interested in retrying the case and describing Jaquez as a "desperate convicted drug dealer who will try anything to avoid responsibility." He noted that Moreida wasn't the only person who testified against him and that surveillance footage "all but videotaped the delivery taking place" between Jaquez and a confidential source who spoke at trial.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno denied the request on procedural grounds, saying the sentencing needed to take place first.
'Like on TV'
Campiti asked that Jaquez be sentenced to home monitoring and no more than six years in prison, observing that he has no criminal history, works hard to support a family and pays taxes as a legal resident. He said there's no evidence Jaquez ever gave drugs to anyone other than the confidential source, who turned it over to the police immediately.
He also contrasted Jaquez's case with that of Cody Garman, who was sentenced earlier in the morning to six years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Pitzer called the comparison completely inappropriate, and argued that Jaquez is someone who needs to be removed from the community.
"He denies the use of any drugs himself, that tells me he's a serious dealer," Pitzer remarked. "It's like what you see on TV, somebody doesn't touch the stuff because he knows how bad it is, he just sells it to others."
Offered a chance to make a statement through an interpreter, Jaquez commented on the men who testified against him, saying one was a friend who had lied and "evidently tried to put me in the position that I'm in," and that the other testified against him to be free of guilt. He began to question something the prosecutor had done but, after receiving some advice from Campiti, instead said he was "sorry about the expenses caused up to now, the whole trial, all the people that are here. That's it."
Once the prison term had been handed down, Campiti said he intends to make his filing in about a week. Christofeno ordered that Jaquez be turned over to the Indiana Department of Corrections in the meantime, saying he won't be able to set the matter for a hearing until July.
"I take it from what Mr. Campiti said, that this will not be the last time I see you," Christofeno remarked to Jaquez. "I suspect I will see you again shortly."