One of the twin brothers accused of possessing about 300 grams of cocaine with the intent to deliver was sentenced in Juneau Superior Court on Wednesday.
In a plea deal reached with prosecutors, Jose Carranza, 23, was sentenced to 18 months in prison with the full 18 months suspended, plus three years of felony probation and an extensive list of conditions of probation.
Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp told Judge Louis Menendez the case was difficult to prosecute since the undercover informant working with Juneau Police Department, Carlos Z. Flores, chose not to testify against Carranza in court.
“As the court is aware through the pretrial hearings that happened in this case, we were not able, as we had anticipated, to secure (Flores’) testimony prior to trial in this case,” Kemp said. “... Since we were unable to secure his testimony, it changed the game, so to speak, from the state’s perspective. Mr. Jose Carranza is probably coming out on the winningest side of this.”
Carranza’s lawyer Eric Hedland described the plea agreement as clearly beneficial to his client, but urged Menendez to accept the deal because it hangs substantial jail time over Carranza’s head and gives him a felony conviction.
Carranza pleaded guilty in late October to a reduced charge of fourth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, a class ‘C’ felony that carries a presumptive term of zero to two years in prison for a first time felony conviction. It is Carranza’s first felony conviction.
Carranza and his twin brother Roberto were originally charged with third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance, a class ‘B’ felony, after they were arrested last July for receiving packages of cocaine. Prosecutors originally alleged that the packages together contained 300 grams, or two-thirds of a pound, of cocaine from Guadalajara, Mexico. The street value of the cocaine both men received totalled about $75,000, with each package worth $37,500, according to the Juneau Police Department.
Hedland noted in the sentencing hearing there was a total of 200 grams of cocaine involved, not 300, and that Jose by himself was found in possession of 100 grams. That claim was not disputed by Kemp. Hedland also said the street value was grossly exaggerated, and that one gram of cocaine was valued at $125. That means the street value of 100 grams would be about $12,500, half the amount JPD originally alleged.
Kemp said in the hearing that the street values depend on the purity of the cocaine, and that it’s possible that the value was much higher than $125 per gram.
A drug detection dog in the Cincinnati International Airport detected the drugs, and federal officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Drug Enforcement Administration tracked the packages to an apartment complex in Juneau.
Officers made contact with the recipient, Flores, who told police he was paid to receive and deliver the packages to “The Twins.”
Flores agreed to be an informant, and JPD obtained a search warrant that allowed them to make video and audio recordings of the subsequent conversations between the Carranza brothers and Flores.
Hedland told the judge on Wednesday there probably wasn’t enough evidence to prove at trial that his client knew cocaine was in the package, and a juror would have to question whether Carranza was set up by Flores.
“This particular package came from Mexico, was addressed to one person, was received by a second person who had a bunch of drugs in their house, then went to Carlos, and once Carlos gets busted, he immediately turns and says, ‘Oh, I was going to deliver it to Carranza,’” Hedland said. “So from the juror’s perspective, one has to wonder, ‘Hey, was this just a setup to get himself out of it?’”
Hedland also said his client does not use drugs himself, has a steady job in town to support himself and his family, and has good prospects for rehabilitation. He added that the suspended jail time would serve as a deterrent for future transgressions.
Menendez accepted the plea deal, saying that this was one of the situations where he places trust in both prosecutors and the defense attorney.
“Probably nobody knows more about a case than the prosecutor prosecuting it and the defense attorney defending the person involved, so I think that there’s times when the court must rely on the parties themselves to agree to an arrangement where they in fact address all the needs of the case, all the needs of the community and all the needs of the defendant,” Menendez said. “I’d like to do this in that case.”
Menendez added, “The agreement that’s been structured, to use Mr. Hedland’s terms, could be interpreted as lenient, and some people will. But it’s still involves a felony conviction, it still involves jail time over his head, it still involves probation officers for the next three years. And in a sense what we’re doing is we’re trusting Mr. Carranza not to re-offend. If he does re-offend, he’ll be back in the court system, facing a period of jail time.”
Jose’s brother Roberto Carranza is still awaiting a jury trial, which is set for March 19. But as the Empire reported in December, additional charges were levied against Roberto since then, as prosecutors allege he delivered cocaine to an undercover informant while he was out on bail.
Roberto now faces an additional three counts of third-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance for knowingly delivering cocaine on Dec. 14, 15 and 16, and three counts of violating conditions of release for a felony, which is a class ‘A’ misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. That trial is slated to March 27.
Charges have also been leveled against the informant, Flores, for his involvement in the operation. According to a court docket, as of Oct. 21, Flores faces three counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the third degree for possession with intent to deliver, a class ‘B’ felony, as well as two counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance in the fourth degree for keeping a building or vehicle to distribute a controlled substance, a class ‘C’ felony. His jury trial is slated to begin Jan. 23.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This article has been changed to reflect the total amount of cocaine involved was between two men. It has also been updated with more information about the amount and value of drugs involved.