TACOMA — A man who investigators believed was at one point the primary distributor of Mexican-produced heroin and methamphetamine on the North Olympic Peninsula has been sentenced to serve 46 months in federal prison.
Nicolas “Nico” Orozco Cruz, a Mexican citizen who was brought to the United States as a child but then crossed the southern border illegally again as an adult, will have three years of supervised released after his prison term, but will likely be deported after his sentence, officials said.
Pleaded guilty in May
Cruz pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, about a year after agents arrested him, his girlfriend and another woman.
He appeared in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Friday for sentencing.
U.S. prosecutors recommended Cruz serve 54 months in prison prior to his “near-certain” deportation, but the defense recommended 46 months because of Cruz’s lack of prior criminal history and because his co-defendants, Elizabeth Ann McKean and Jessica Elen Christman, were allowed to enter into the Drug Reentry Alternative Model (DREAM) program to avoid prison.
Cruz is not eligible for the DREAM program because of his immigration status.
“Law enforcement had been hearing about Cruz for several months,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Marci Ellsworth. “He was dealing in this community for a long period of time.”
Cruz’s defense argued that he started dealing to fund his own addiction that began when he was injured falling off a roof.
“This injury caused him to start using heroin to treat the pain and when he could not perform the hard manual labor he knew, he began dealing heroin,” court papers said.
Cruz’s attorney disputes the prosecution’s assertion that Cruz was the leader of the organization.
“McKean controlled her own drug distribution business,” Cruz’s attorney wrote in a sentencing memo.
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Bryan said that Cruz’s accident “got him into addiction. Many people become addicted after injury.”
Bryan continued, saying “deportation will likely follow his prison sentence and while in custody he will serve harder time than those who are not illegal aliens.”
Cruz told the court through an interpreter, “I’ve been in prison for more than a year, and I know that I have learned my lesson and I will never do this again.”
Cruz said he just wants to get back to his family and he asks for forgiveness from the U.S., the judge and the community.
Cruz, McKean and Christman were all arrested last year after a year-long Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team (OPNET) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation into Cruz’s drug trafficking organization, which officials believed was the primary supplier of Mexican-produced heroin and methamphetamine on the Olympic Peninsula.
Records said McKean focused on distributing drugs to the western-most parts of the North Olympic Peninsula in areas such as Neah Bay, Sekiu and Forks while Cruz focused on such areas as Port Angeles and Sequim.
Court records said the investigation into Cruz’s organization started after police learned that Cruz was supplying drugs to Daniel Percival, who is now serving an 80-month term for federal drug and firearms offenses.
During the investigation, members of the drug trafficking organization had been “hypersensitive” to police presence, but investigators gained information from several people who admitted to purchasing drugs from them, court records said.
Investigators conducted controlled buys using an undercover officer and informants and eventually executed search and arrest warrants May 23, 2018.
At a residence shared by McKean and Cruz with their 4-year-old daughter and Cruz’s adult son, investigators found a rifle, a digital scale and more than $16,000 cash.
Cruz was arrested at the Welcome Inn RV Park in Port Angeles, where investigators said they found him with a distribution quantity of methamphetamine and $1,712 cash.
Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said in a statement that the department appreciates the work performed by detectives and agents assigned to OPNET, special agents from the DEA and the work of the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington.
“Persons who violate both the criminal laws of the United States and the State of Washington damage our quality of life every day,” Smith said.
“I think the sentence reflects the seriousness of the crimes that were committed. Persons engaged in similar criminal activity on the Olympic Peninsula should be aware that OPNET has likely already made them a priority.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].