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Drugs to The Bronx From PR Led to Verdicts Now on Vargas Sanjuro US Asks 151 Months

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon

SDNY COURTHOUSE, March 22 – Abel Montilla and ten others were indicted for a narcotics conspiracy involving sending cocaine into the mainland United States from Puerto Rico.    

On October 13, 2020 U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge P. Kevin Castel held an arraignment and scheduling proceeding. Inner City Press covered it.

  A range of CJA lawyers, including as to one the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, entered not guilty pleas for their clients.

Discovery on large external hard drives was discussed.  

On November 16, 2022, co-defendant Esteban Vargas Sanjuro was brought into Magistrates Court, seeking release on bond. Inner City Press was there; the defendant's wife was in the gallery. The defense lawyer offered a $350,000 bond, seven co-signers. But nothing in the package addressed the "danger to the community" posed by continued import of cocaine in custom-made furniture from Puerto Rico, Magistrate Judge Jennifer E. Willis ruled. Sanjury remains detained.

  Jump back to September 26, 2022. Abel Montilla was on (first) trial, and initial co-defendant Anabel Colon Reyes on the witness stand. She testified about package of cocaine mailed, including to DHL, from Puerto Rico to Orlando, Florida and to The Bronx. She was arrested in September 2019, spent seven days in jail then decided to cooperate with the government. She wants a 5K-1 letter.

  Montilla's defense lawyer asked why she had gotten interested in his client's nickname, Cochabomba, and not Peter "El Loco." Judge Castel called the end of the trial day.

On September 28, this: "Re: United States v. Abel Montilla, a/k/a “Coche Bomba,” S9 19 Cr. 536 (PKC) Dear Judge Castel: The Government writes to respectfully request that the Court adjourn trial in the abovecaptioned case until the Government’s remaining witness (“CW-1”) is able to satisfy the Southern District’s COVID protocols and enter the courthouse, so that CW-1 may testify in person. (See Ct. Exs. 2, 3; Sept. 28, 2022 Trial Tr. at 358.) The Government has discussed this matter with defense counsel and defense counsel has conveyed that the defendant does not object to an adjournment. As the Court is aware, CW-1 arrived in Court today to testify as a Government witness. After taking the witness stand, but before the jury entered the courtroom, CW-1 indicated to a Spanish language interpreter that CW-1 was experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19. At the Court’s direction, CW-1 was removed from the courtroom and a PCR test was administered, which came back positive for COVID-19."

On September 29, Inner City Press went to Courtroom 11D as Judge Castel, after argument, declared a mistrial based on "manifest necessity."

In the re-trial, on December 19, 2022, this: "JURY VERDICT as to Abel Montilla (7) Guilty on Count 1s."

And on March 22, 2023, this: "JUDGMENT In A Criminal Case (S15 19-Cr-536-07). Date of Imposition of Judgment: 3/22/2023. Defendant Abel Montilla IMPRISONMENT: 204 months. - The court makes the following recommendations to the Bureau of Prisons: Defendant serve his sentence as closed as feasible to Springfield, Massachusetts to facilitate family visits. - The defendant is remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal. SUPERVISED RELEASE: 5 years. Standard Conditions of Supervision (See page 4 of Judgment). Special Conditions of Supervision (See page 5 of Judgment). ASSESSMENT: $100.00, due immediately. (Signed by Judge P. Kevin Castel on 3/22/2023)(bw)

On November 4, Inner City Press was in the Magistrates Court when a co-defendant of Montilla came in and pleaded not guilty: "Minute Entry for proceedings held before Magistrate Judge Barbara C. Moses:Arraignment as to Esteban Vargas Sanjurjo (13) Count 1,2 Esteban Vargas Sanjurjo (13) Count 1,2 held on 11/4/2022. Defendant is present with attorney Victor Molina; AUSA Andrew Jones and Spanish Interpreter are also present. Brady Order given. Plea entered by Esteban Vargas Sanjurjo (13) Count 1,2 Esteban Vargas Sanjurjo (13) Count 1,2 Not Guilty."

On February 15, 2023, co-defendant Roberto Juan Nieves Perez had a bail hearing. An apartment on Arden Street had been rented for him. But Judge Castel hearkened back to 4000 kilos of cocaine being packed into furniture the defendant made in his shop in Puerto Rico, and his travel to the Dominican Republic in 2022. He was ordered detained pending trial.

On September 25, 2023 the AUSA wrote in asking for a change of plea proceeding for Nieves-Perez.

It happened: "Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge P. Kevin Castel: Change of Plea Hearing as to Roberto Juan Nieves Perez held on 10/3/2023. Defendant changes not guilty plea and pleads guilty to the lesser included offense in Count 1. Defendant admits forfeiture allegations in paragraphs 6, 7 and 8 of the S14 Indictment. Sentencing is scheduled for January 11, 2024 at 11:00 a.m. Defendant is remanded into custody."

On October 3, Judge Castel scheduled another plea: "MEMO ENDORSEMENT as to (19-Cr-536-13) Esteban Vargas Sanjurjo on re: [451] LETTER MOTION filed by USA addressed to Judge P. Kevin Castel from USA dated October 3, 2023 re: Request to schedule change-of-plea proceeding."

On November 7, 2023, Judge Castel was presiding over the trial of co-defendant Omar Lopez Castro a/k/a Cache. Five kilos of cocaine put into furniture, and a house in El Caito in Carolina, Puerto Rico, were referenced.

He was convicted, with sentencing in February 2024: "conviction in Manhattan federal court of OMAR LOPEZ CASTRO for his participation in a cocaine trafficking scheme between 2018 and 2022.  The jury convicted LOPEZ CASTRO following a one-week trial before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.  Sentencing of LOPEZ CASTRO is scheduled for February 22, 2024."That was extended to June 25, 2024.

On March 12, 2024, for co-defendant Roberto Nieves-Perez, counsel asked for the minimum: 60 months. The furniture maker had already spend 18 months in the MDC.

On March 14, for co-defendant Esteban Vargas Sanjuro, counsel asked for an unspecified downward variance, noting that he had been a personal assistant to a major league baseball player who played for the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals and the Milwaukee Brewers.

On March 22 for Vargas Sanjuro, the US asked for 151 to 188 months.

 Inner City Press will continue to follow the case.

The case is US v. Montilla, et al., 19-cr-536 (Castel)


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