Death of Infants Leads to Arrest of Two Women For Trafficking Methamphetamine in Utah

Two south Idaho women were arrested for trafficking methamphetamine in Utah after drugs were located in a home where the death of two infants was being investigated.

Death investigation

Photo by: Tony Webster

Two seven week old infant twin boys were found dead in a Twin Falls, Idaho home on October 12th, 2018. Upon investigating the deaths, police discovered methamphetamine when searching the home. Police determined the meth to linked to two females who were living at the residence but did not say if either one was related to the deceased newborns. It was also undetermined whether the drugs found had anything to do with the deaths of the infant boys.

Homicide or drugs?

In an effort to bring the two women in for questioning about the suspicious deaths, Twin Falls police put out interstate drug trafficking warrants for 28 year old Haley Miller and 32 year old Sylvia Tapia that Utah police mistakenly interpreted as homicide warrants. Miller and Tapia’s vehicle was stopped in a “high risk stop” on highway 89 near Perry, Utah and both women were arrested. Utah police later retracted statement made to the press regarding the homicide warrants, clarifying that the warrants were in fact for trafficking methamphetamine. Miller and Tapia were booked into the Box Elder County Jail to await extradition to Idaho Falls.

Trafficking methamphetamine

Photo by: Pablo

Although both women were likely relieved to hear the homicide warrants were a mistake, the charges against them for trafficking methamphetamine are still severe. Utah Code 58-37-8 states, “. . . it is unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally:

(i) Produce, manufacture, or dispense, or to possess with intent to produce, manufacture, or dispense, a controlled or counterfeit substance;
(ii) Distribute a controlled or counterfeit substance, or to agree, consent, offer, or arrange to distribute a controlled substance;
(iii) Possess a controlled or counterfeit substance with intent to distribute;”

That section goes on to note that “Any person convicted of [intent to distribute methamphetamine] . . is guilty of a second degree felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years, and upon a second or subsequent conviction is guilty of a first degree felony;”

Federal charges

While each state including Idaho and Utah has their own laws regarding drug possession and distribution, when an individual crosses state lines to distribute the illicit drugs, federal charges for drug trafficking are possible and may carry harsher penalties than at a state level. According to page 30 of the Drugs of Abuse 2017 DEA Resource Guide 2017, federal trafficking penalties for methamphetamine, a schedule II drug are as follows:

• If the quantity is 5-49 grams pure or 50-499 grams mixture, the penalties would be:
o For a first offense: “Not less than 5 yrs, and not more than 40 yrs. If death or serious injury, not less than 20 or more than life. Fine of not more than $5 million if an individual, $25 million if not an individual.
o Second offense: Not less than 10 yrs, and not more than life. If death or serious injury, life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $8 million if an individual, $50 million if not an individual.”

• If the quantity is 50 grams or more pure or 500 grams or more mixture, the penalties would be:
o For a first offense: “Not less than 10 yrs, and not more than life. If death or serious injury, not less than 20 or more than life. Fine of not more than $10 million if an individual, $50 million if not an individual.
o Second Offense: Not less than 20 yrs, and not more than life. If death or serious injury, life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $20 million if an individual, $75 million if not an individual.
o 2 or more prior offenses: Life imprisonment. Fine of not more than $20 million if an individual, $75 million if not an individual.”

With the seriousness related to drug distribution, especially for those crimes that cross state lines, anyone facing federal charges of trafficking methamphetamine should counsel with a criminal defense attorney immediately.

Utah Women Arrested for Attempting to Traffic Meth over Southern Utah Border

Two separate incidents within a single week of December have ended in officers arresting multiple women for attempting to traffic meth over the southern Utah border near St. George.

I-15 drug corridor

Photo by: Nancy

I-15 is known as a drug corridor which is evident in two similar cases that happened south of St. George, Utah last month. In one incident, 43 year old Tara Evans of Annabella Utah was stopped for traffic violations in Mesquite Nevada, located about 30 miles south of the Utah border. A search of the vehicle Evans was driving turned up over four ounces of methamphetamine. Although she was only in possession of around four ounces of methamphetamine, she was charged by Nevada law as trafficking a controlled substance. This could be due to her admitting she brought the drugs with her over the border or the charging officer assuming that was the case.

Drug run to Nevada

In another incident that same week, two women from southern Utah were arrested shortly after passing through Mesquite Nevada and crossing back over the border into Utah. A search of that vehicle occupied by 30 year old Ashley Marie Harmer and 21 year old Mackenzie Lee Clark turned up multiple large wrapped packages of methamphetamine along with other instruments used to sell the substance. Harmer and Clark admitted to traveling to Nevada to obtain the drugs to transport back into the state of Utah.

Drug charges in two states

All three women are facing felony drug charges. Evans was arrested in Nevada and faces felony charges for drug trafficking there. Harmer and Clark were arrested in Utah for possession of meth with the intent to distribute. Since Clark is a first time offender, she faces third degree felony charges while Harmer faces first degree charges since this is not her first rodeo with drug trafficking and distribution. While all three women are facing charges in the state they were arrested in, it is possible they could face federal drug trafficking charges as well since they crossed over state lines while in possession of a controlled substance. Whether facing state or federal penalties, anyone facing drug charges are encouraged to refrain from admitting anything to authorities and seeking appropriate legal counsel immediately.

Is Possession of a Photo of Mexican Folk Saint Jesus Malverde Reasonable Suspicion of Drug Activity in Utah?

Jesus Malverde, a Mexican folk saint known as the “Narco-saint” is celebrated by many individuals including those involved in drug trafficking; for this reason, any memorial item of him may be add to an officer’s reasonable suspicion of drug activity.

Jesus Malverde, the good bandit

Photo by: beautiful hustler -[inworld] –>hotwetkitty

Jesus Malverde is a folk saint believed by some to have lived in Mexico in the late 19th century. Although he is known by most Roman Catholics throughout Mexico, he is not officially recognized as a saint by the church. Malverde was said to have been a “good bandit”, who through his short life was responsible for regularly stealing from the rich to give back to his deprived fellow countrymen. Following his death, many who memorialize Malverde as a saint credit their ability to heal from injuries and sickness or find lost items to his spiritual influence.

Twisted folklore

Just as any folklore, the story of Jesus Malverde has slowly become distorted, with some using his image and name for immoral purposes. Over the years, drug traffickers began to claim Malverde had regularly protected drug lords such as El Chapo as well as the Mexican drug cartel from being arrested or killed. A shrine to honor Jesus Malverde was erected in his birthplace of Sinaloa, Mexico and was funded almost entirely by the drug cartel. Memorabilia including photos, statues, jewelry, candles, and even soap has been created with Malverde’s name or photo for worshipers to purchase. Unfortunately, because the drug cartel has usurped Malverde’s name, being in possession of any of those collectibles could give authorities reasonable suspicion that someone is involved in drug activity.

Targeted for religious icon

Photo by: Drew Stephens

Since Jesus Malverde’s name was tainted by drug cartel, anyone sporting souvenirs with Malverde’s image or name could be watched more closely by law enforcement. There have been several drug cases in which Jesus Malverde memorabilia helped convince law enforcement of possible drug activity. Two that took place in Utah included:

• U.S. V. Lopez-Gutierrez. Lopez was pulled over in Cedar City, Utah for a traffic violation when police “observed one picture of Jesus Malverde affixed to the dashboard and another hanging from Lopez’s necklace. The officer recognized the images of Jesus Malverde, who is considered a patron saint by some drug traffickers.” The officer observed other suspicious items such as an air freshener, rose, and three cell phones; thus proceeding to further question Lopez. After a K9 alerted on the car, a search of the vehicle turned up distribution amounts of methamphetamine.

• State of Utah V. Alverez. Alverez was seen stopping at an apartment complex, only to return moments later. Police became suspicious and waited for Alverez to return the next day. After he returned and reentered the complex, an officer “observed a facsimile of Jesus Malverde” and that “ through interviews he had conducted, Jesus Malverde was the patron saint of drug dealing.” When Alverez returned to the vehicle, officer discussed his lack of vehicle insurance, questioned him about drug use, and then forcefully made Alverez open his mouth where he was hiding 15 rubber balloons filled with illegal drugs.

Reasonable suspicion

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Utah Code 77-7-15 states, “a peace officer may stop any person in a public place when he has a reasonable suspicion to believe he has committed or is in the act of committing or is attempting to commit a public offense and may demand his name, address and an explanation of his actions.” Reasonable suspicion differs from probable cause in that with reasonable suspicion, there doesn’t need to be evidence of a crime, only a hunch by a trained law enforcement officer. If an officer sees drugs in a car through a window or a door, that officer would have probable cause to search the vehicle. If the same officer instead saw an item such as a picture of Jesus Malverde in the vehicle who is known to be worshipped by many, including drug traffickers, the officer could question the suspect under the claim that the photo added to his reasonable suspicion of possible drug activity.

Religious persecution

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ( . . . )”. Unless a religion give a valid cause for alarm such as a direct threat to the safety of the public, the separation of church and state should prohibit the government from determining what religion (or saint) citizens are allowed to worship without being accused of wrong-doing. By claiming souvenirs of Saint Jesus Malverde point to an increased chance of drug trafficking, the question of religious prosecution arises. Just because some who worship a religion or saint have criminal histories, not all who practice that religion or worship should be implicated as well. Just as not all Muslims are potential terrorists and not all white Christians are supremacists, it is unfair and unconstitutional to determine a person’s character or likelihood to commit a crime based on their choice of a religious icon.