Federal prosecutors pick up drug case out of Washington City

2019 file photo of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A suspect arrested during a traffic stop in July has been charged in federal court after Washington City officers reportedly recovered more than 21 pounds of methamphetamine and 10 pounds of fentanyl pills during a search of the vehicle.

File photo of 21 plastic bags of suspected methamphetamine and four packages containing 10,000 tablets each of suspected fentanyl recovered during a traffic stop in Washington City, Utah, July 6, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Washington City Police Department, St. George News

A complaint has been filed against 26-year-old Iram Issael Lopez-Lopez in U.S. District Court charging the defendant with one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

The case stems from a traffic stop conducted July 6, when an officer pulled a vehicle over near the 900 block of Washington Parkway and then noticed a rear-mounted camera affixed to the top of the license plate that also obscured several of the letters imprinted on the tag.

The car was searched after a K-9 conducting an exterior sniff around the vehicle alerted to the possible presence of narcotics, which is when officers recovered the methamphetamine wrapped in bundles in the trunk as well as thousands of small blue pills located inside of a shoebox.

Both Lopez and the passenger, 23-year-old Carlos Ivan Fuentes-Alameda, were transported to the Washington City Police Department to be interviewed. An agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency was called in to conduct interviews with both men, aided by an interpreter, and both suspects agreed to speak to the agent.

According to the complaint, Lopez told the agent the pair traveled to Arizona to pick up the drugs from “somebody at a gas station” and return them to the Salt Lake City area. Alameda also said the two went to the gas station but said he did not know anything about the purpose of the trip, only that they were there for about 15 minutes and then left.

The agent also stated in the complaint the methamphetamine was field-tested with a positive result, while the bags of pills were consistent with counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl and while not tested in the field were sent to the crime lab for analysis.

Both men were originally charged with two second-degree felony counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Once the federal complaint was filed against Lopez, the state case will be dropped. Alameda still faces the two original charges filed against him in a case that remains active in 5th District Court.

Lopez appeared before Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler in U.S. District Court for an initial appearance, and during the hearing the judge ordered that Lopez remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Office until further notice. He also ordered that any further review regarding detention would remain with the magistrate who filed the original order.

Stock photo. | Photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The maximum penalty for anyone convicted of possession of more than 500 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute is 10 years to life in federal prison and up to $10 million in fines.

Moreover, in the federal system, the judge is required to impose a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for anyone convicted of trafficking more than 500 grams of methamphetamine — unless the defendant qualifies for the safety valve or the government requests a downward departure.

To qualify for the safety valve exception, a defendant must satisfy five criteria — which include a minimal past criminal history, not being a leader or organizer behind the offense, that no violence was used in the commission of the crime and the offense must not have resulted in serious injury. The defendant is also required to tell the government everything he knows about the offense.

Lopez is scheduled to appear for a status conference at the end of the month and both men remain in custody in Washington County, where they have been since their arrest July 6.

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Ed. Note: A new Utah law generally prohibits the release of arrest booking photos until after a conviction is obtained.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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