Judge sentences 56th defendant in Albuquerque federal sting operation

jt081216c/a sec/jim thompson/ Special Agent in Charge Thomas G. Atteberry, of the ATF Phoenix Field Division stated that Albuquerque is a violent town and it was one f the reason that the ATF-Multi-agency law enforcement operations took place here. Friday Aug. 12, 2016. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Special Agent in Charge Thomas G. Atteberry, of the ATF Phoenix Field Division, stated that Albuquerque is a violent town and it was one reason that the ATF-multi-agency law enforcement operations took place there. (Photo: Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

A federal judge sentenced the 56th defendant last week arrested during a sting operation in Albuquerque in 2016 targeting the area’s “worst of the worst” criminals.

Antonio Perez-Contreras, a 30-year-old Mexican national, will spend up to 108 months in prison for dealing methamphetamine in New Mexico’s Bernalillo County and illegally possessing a firearm as an undocumented immigrant.

Perez-Contreras pled guilty to owning the gun and selling more than 415 grams of the drug to an undercover cop in May 2016. He will be deported upon completion of his sentence.

The sentence follows a multi-agency four month sting operation in the Albuquerque metro area culminating in 104 arrests and the the seizure of 127 firearms, 17 pounds of meth, 2.5 pounds of heroin, 14 ounces of crack cocaine, over a pound of cocaine and some Ecstasy — according to a report from the Albuquerque Journal.

“The premise is some individuals commit a disproportionate amount of crime,” U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez told the newspaper in August 2016. “We can take control … This is law enforcement coming together as one to address the problem.”

So far, 84 defendants have been convicted and only 16 have entered not guilty pleas, according to the U.S. Attorneys Office.

Despite federal authorities’ declarations of the operation as a resounding success, some critics suggest racial profiling ensnared a disproportionately high rate of African Americans in the wave of arrests.

A analysis from New Mexico In Depth found African Americans represented 27 percent of the defendants, despite only managing a 3 percent population in Bernalillo County overall. Some 59 Hispanics, 15 whites and one Native American were also arrested as part of the operation, the news outlet concluded.

Defense attorneys have even filed motions regarding “selective enforcement,” accusing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for racially profiling defendants.

“An agency with a troubled history took a traveling crew of agents with suspect backgrounds, including ones with demonstrated instances of racial targeting, employed a racially-stacked group of (confidential informants), deployed them in areas of the city overwhelmingly concentrated with minorities, and had them utilize their racial similarity as a means of breeding connection and trust,” federal public defender John Robbenhaar wrote in a motion. “This is discriminatory intent.”

It’s the fourth state to allege such allegations against the ATF, according to the report. The agency disputes the claims.

“If they are black, white, green, brown and don’t have the criminal history, they are not going to get pursued,” ATF Special Agent Russell Johnson told a federal judge of the agency’s process during the operation. “We tried to get the worst of the worst.”

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