view full story- Case of drug trafficking network operating in California and Louisiana results in 9 indictments
A federal grand jury indictment, according to United States Attorney Walt Green for the Middle District of Louisiana, involving several men operating a drug trafficking network in Louisiana and California, was unsealed this week.
As part of Operation Armageddon, agents executed federal search warrants that resulted in the seizure of more than nine kilograms of high-grade methamphetamine with a potential retail value of more than $1 million, eight pounds of marijuana, and various weapons, including an AR/15 assault rifle.
The methamphetamine seizure, according to the U.S. Attorney's office, is the largest in the history of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, which was one of the participating agencies.
Nine individuals were indicted on drug trafficking, money laundering, and firearms offenses.
Oscar Machado-Galeana, 32, and Alexander P. Nava, 45, both of Baton Rouge, were both indicted on a laundry list of charges including: possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine; heroin and marijuana; conspiracy to launder monetary instruments; distribution of five grams or more of methamphetamine; four counts of distribution of fifty grams or more of methamphetamine; distribution of heroin; distribution of marijuana; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and forfeiture.
Devin Joel Martin, 25; Lori Lee Landry, 39; Gregory John Landry, 39; Roy Martin Herrera Romero, 38 and Mervin Ronald Spencer, 24; who are all of Baton Rouge were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana; and forfeiture.
Victor Hugo Sandoval-Quinonez, 36, of Breaux Bridge, was also charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana; and forfeiture.
Marco Antonio Lopez-Sandoval, 20, of California, is charged with conspiracy.
If convicted, these individuals face significant terms of imprisonment, fines, and the forfeiture of proceeds from the illegal activity.
NEW ORLEANS — A man who had been serving life on a murder charge is free — the first person to have a conviction reversed by what is described as an unprecedented partnership between prosecutors and a group that works to free people who were wrongfully convicted.
Criminal District Judge Darryl Derbigny overturned the conviction and granted Kia Stewart a new trial Monday, and prosecutors dropped the murder charge, Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, said in a news release. "It is certainly the first tangible result" of the Conviction Integrity Project, a collaboration between prosecutors and Innocence Project-New Orleans, Emily Maw, director of the local Innocence Project office, said in a telephone interview.
The joint venture was announced in August but did not get funded until January, she said. The city is paying the salaries of an assistant district attorney, an investigator and a records clerk to work full-time on the pilot project, and a grant from Baptist Community Ministries is paying for two Innocence Project-New Orleans staffers to do the same, she said. "A lot of what we're doing is records review — massive records review," Maw said.
A jury convicted Stewart in 2009 as the man who killed Bryant Craig Jr. in July 2005. A man who had been walking nearby told police that Craig was shot during an argument after his vehicle nearly hit a pedestrian. Stewart was 17 when he was arrested three weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit the city, and he was jailed for four years before his trial, Maw said. The second-degree murder conviction carried a mandatory life sentence.
Bowman said investigators found "numerous witnesses — including multiple eyewitnesses," who either identified a different killer or said Stewart was not the killer.
Maw said her organization was looking into Stewart's case before August, and it "was one of the things that inspired the project."
Another, Cannizzaro said last year, was the case of Reginald Adams, whose second-degree murder conviction was reversed in 2014 after a judge agreed with authorities that former prosecutors and detectives withheld evidence that might have acquitted him. Adams had spent 34 years in prison.
Both Maw and Cannizzaro said in August that the collaboration was the first of its kind. Stewart's case did not involve any misconduct by prosecutors — the judge found that Stewart's trial attorneys did a poor job, Bowman emphasized. "Second, and more important, it is disturbing to me that all these witnesses were available for the 2009 trial but for a myriad of reasons did not participate in it," he said.
Maw said the joint venture is looking at about 10 other cases and had numerous other possibilities. "This is just what we're looking into at the moment."
Maw said Stewart, now 27, celebrated his freedom with a chicken salad lunch. That "is what he wanted for his first meal," she said. "We said, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Yes.'" He will stay at first with his mother, but may want to "explore other states, other places," Maw said.
She said that, as a relative newcomer to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, he had limited training choices during his six years there. "He already has his GED. He is an excellent sportsman. I think he would love to coach kids in sports," she said.
Assistant District Attorney Le’Anne Malnar received the DWI Prosecutor of the Year Award on March 24 from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission during a Baton Rouge ceremony, held by District Attorney Scott M. Perrilloux.
Malnar, of Amite, was honored along with other honorees that the LHSC felt had demonstrated commitment in reducing the number of impaired drivers in Louisiana, a news release said. This included law enforcement officers, a judge, a district attorney and other agencies.
According to the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association, the district attorney board was asked to nominate a district attorney and an assistant district attorney to be honored. Malnar was nominated by Perrilloux, the 21st judicial District Attorney. Malnar was selected because of her work in prosecuting DWI offenses and her efforts in community education in relation to impaired driving, Perrilloux said in a news release. She regularly performs presentations, law enforcement workshops and area high schools mock trial demonstrations, the release said.
In Perrilloux’s nomination letter he addressed the many reasons Malnar should be chosen, stating:
“Over the years, Le’Anne has shown a continuous commitment to fulfilling her duties as a prosecutor utilizing her talents in the exceptional execution of her job,” Perrilloux said in his nomination letter. “She is able to work under difficult, high-pressure situations and still attain excellent results. She often steps up to the plate volunteering her services in many ways which directly benefit the criminal justice system in the enforcement of our state’s DWI laws.”
Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Executive Director John LeBlanc and Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, presented Malnar with her award.
Processing and tracking DWI arrests is about to get easier and more accurate. The state is set to launch a new software prosecutors believe will lead to greater conviction rates.
Officers working DWI checkpoints go through a rigorous training process. It includes learning to administer and analyze field sobriety tests and the paperwork that comes with it is lengthy and can be time consuming. The Executive Director for Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, John LeBlanc, who is a retired state police Lt. Col., says processing it can take days or more. "Sometimes it would take 30 or more days before that report finally got to the city prosecutor or DA's office," said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc says the delay can sometimes allow the suspect to cheat the system. "If a drunk driver stops and tests above the limit, they take his license and give a paper license until his hearing," said LeBlanc. "He can go down to the Office of Motor Vehicles the next day and say 'I lost my license. I need another one.'"
That's because the OMV worker may look at the system and see a clean record since the latest offense hasn't been entered yet, but change is coming. The paperwork is being replaced with software that will allow officers to electronically enter DWI arrest reports. Once it is approved by a supervisor, it will then be forwarded directly to the District Attorney's office, the Office of Motor Vehicles and into the overall database.
Several agencies across the state have used the system as part of a pilot study. Baton Rouge Police Department has been using it the longest. Since October, officers have entered 790 DWI arrests into the system. The East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office has entered 87, and the Louisiana State Police Troop A has entered 343.
Also, the current alcohol breath tester, the Intoxyilizer 5000 will be replaced with the newer, 9000 model. The results will be electronically linked to the reporting software.
District Attorney Hillar Moore says having all agencies on the same system will allow any officer to pull up someone's record and immediately see whether they are a repeat offender so that they can charge them properly. "Every parish, all law enforcement agencies, judges who sent bonds, everybody I think will benefit by from this system," said Moore.
The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission says it will also cut out potential errors in the paperwork that typically delay prosecution. "It's going to cut down on the errors," said LeBlanc. "You won't have a handwriting issue where you can't read it, and there will also be prompts that if you forget to fill in the blanks it won't let you proceed."
The new system was paid for with a $6 million federal grant. LeBlanc says the goal is to have it in place across the state by the end of the year.