Drug kingpin sentenced to 12 years in prison; Mendiola was at center of Taco Bell fatal shootout two years ago
A Roswell man authorities described as the leader of a drug trafficking organization was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Las Cruces to 144 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release for his conviction on cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking charges.
Joseph Ray Mendiola, 36, was also ordered to forfeit 14 firearms and ammunition.
Mendiola is one of 41 individuals charged in September 2015 with drug trafficking offenses as a result of an eight-month multi-agency investigation by the FBI, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force, the Roswell Police Department, the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and the New Mexico State Police. Twenty-one of the defendants were charged with federal offenses and the remaining 20 with state crimes.
The investigation initially targeted a drug trafficking organization led by Mendiola, who allegedly distributed methamphetamine in Chaves County.
It later expanded to include drug traffickers who allegedly supplied methamphetamine to the Mendiola organization and other drug traffickers operating in Chaves County.
The arrests of the 41 people, 35 of them Roswell residents, began on July 31, 2015, with a police shootout at Taco Bell at 3007 N. Main St., where Mendiola was allegedly conducting a drug transaction.
The shootout resulted in the death of 34-year-old Jeremy L. Hatch and the injury of Roswell police officer Barton Devos.
On Oct. 18, 2016, Mendiola pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess methamphetamine and cocaine with intent to distribute, and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. In entering the guilty plea, Mendiola admitted conspiring with his co-defendants to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine in Chaves County from June 2015 through July 31, 2015.
Mendiola also admitted that on July 25, 2015, and July 31, 2015, he and a co-defendant arranged to purchase 2 pounds of methamphetamine with the intention of distributing it to others.
Mendiola’s prior criminal history includes two prior methamphetamine trafficking convictions and a conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Mendiola was prosecuted as part of a federal anti-violence initiative that targets “the worst of the worst” offenders for federal prosecution.
Under this initiative, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies work with New Mexico’s district attorneys and state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to target violent or repeat offenders primarily based on their prior criminal convictions for federal prosecution with the goal of removing repeat offenders from communities in New Mexico for as long as possible.
The investigation was designed as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces program, which combines the resources and unique expertise of federal agencies, along with their local counterparts, in a coordinated effort to disrupt and dismantle major drug trafficking organizations.
Mendiola and 15 other federal defendants were charged in a 24-count indictment filed on Sept. 22, 2015.
Count 1 of the Indictment charged 15 of the 16 defendants with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine between June and July of 2015. Count 2 charged three defendants with conspiracy to distribute cocaine in July 2015. Counts 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 charged certain defendants with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in July 2015. Counts 8 through 24 charged certain defendants with using communications devices (telephones) to facilitate drug trafficking crimes. All crimes charged in the federal indictment allegedly occurred in Chaves County.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officers executed 14 federal search warrants for 10 residences in Roswell, one residence in Dexter and three vehicles. During the execution of those search warrants, the officers seized approximately 5,600 grams of methamphetamine, $35,960 in cash and multiple firearms, including two assault rifles.
To date, 13 of Mendiola’s co-defendants have entered guilty pleas and two have been sentenced. Three co-defendants have yet to be arrested and are considered fugitives. Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The federal cases were investigated by the Roswell office of the FBI’s Albuquerque division, the Las Cruces office of the DEA, the Roswell Police Department, the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, the Chaves County Metro Narcotics Task Force, the New Mexico State Police and the U.S. Marshals Service.