U.S. District Court

Federal judge scraps “lenient” plea deal for Tenderloin fentanyl dealer

A drive by federal prosecutors to rapidly convict, sentence and deport foreign national drug dealers hit a road block today when a district judge balked at the lenient sentence he was being asked to impose in the case of a Salvadorean dealer and told attorneys he wasn’t prepared to accept it.

Santiago Gonzalez-Gonzalez, 28, was seen by Drug Enforcement Agency agents selling fentanyl at the corner of Market Street and Eighth Street on the evening of July 27. He was working as part of a team with another dealer and was also responsible for holding a backpack in which narcotics were stored.

As part of a plea agreement, he was to plead guilty and then be given a term of ‘time served plus one day’ before being handed over to officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for anticipated deportation.

“I find it hard to believe that I could give such a lenient sentence,” said U.S. District Judge William Alsup, pointing to Gonzalez-Gonzalez’ substantial rap sheet.

“This is a serious criminal record of someone who, with another person, had large quantities of fentanyl for sale – more than half a pound [of] the deadliest drug on San Francisco’s streets these days.”

Earlier in the day the judge issued a written order sua sponte asking the parties to provide him with full details of the defendant’s criminal record and immigration history – a request for information which was only partially included in the sentencing memoranda provided by the Government and the defense and which augured poorly for the success of the plea agreement at a hearing this afternoon.

Having been found, along with a co-defendant Levin Cruz-Bonegas, with 296 grams of fentanyl, 64 grams of cocaine base and 32 grams of methamphetamine, Gonzalez-Gonzalez was poised to plead guilty to ‘possession with intent to distribute’.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Galen Phillips told the court in a written motion that the ‘guideline’ sentence for Gonzalez-Gonzalez, taking account of the conduct and his criminal history, was in a range of 70-87 months’ imprisonment.

“This disposition results in a drug trafficking conviction within weeks of arrest…immediate separation of the defendant from the Tenderloin, and prevention of the defendant from returning to the Tenderloin.”

A speedy resolution “will free up other government resources to prosecute additional federal crimes, including in the Tenderloin,” he added.

“In an easier case, even against my better judgment, I might go along with the leniency of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, trying to get drug dealers out of the Tenderloin, but on a case of this seriousness I just can’t do it,” the judge remarked today.

“We don’t want to send a message to other drug dealers: come to San Francisco, come to the Tenderloin, and then sell your drugs and the USA will give you an easy out.”

Alsup added that he thought the chances of the defendant coming back in to the country to sell drugs was high.

The court was told that it appeared Gonzalez-Gonzalez – a native of El Salvador – had been arrested by U.S. Border Patrol officers in 2014 and ordered to be administratively removed. That did not happen. His rap sheet since includes convictions for battery, burglary and false imprisonment.

“Meanwhile,” observed an incredulous judge, “there has been a lot of crime. A lot of crime has gone down by him in that time in the nine years it has taken the immigration people to decide that case.”

“Something is wrong with this picture.”

Last week, Honduran national Candy Cardona-Zuniga, 18, appeared before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer and received ‘same day’ conviction and sentence under the expedited scheme. She had been found with 148 grams of fentanyl and 52 grams of heroin but had no other criminal history to speak of.

With attorneys for the Government and the defendant having indicated they wished for further time to negotiate in light of the court’s decision, Judge Alsup set a status hearing for September 12 at San Francisco federal courthouse. He also ordered U.S. Pretrial Services to begin work on a sentencing report in the event Gonzalez-Gonzalez pleads or is found guilty.

The outcome of today’s hearing suggests that prosecutors may recalibrate somewhat the type of offender and offense they are putting to the court for expedited resolution.

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