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Drug trafficker who smuggled 66 pounds of meth into US sentenced

SAN DIEGO — A drug trafficker who fled while on trial in 2009 and was arrested years later in his home country of Mexico was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for smuggling 66 pounds of methamphetamine into the United States and distributing it throughout the San Diego area.

In handing down the punishment to Salvador Ojeda Amarillas, 62, U.S. District Judge William Hayes described the evidence of the defendant’s crimes “overwhelming.”

Hayes said the two-decade penitentiary sentence was appropriate because Ojeda was a leader of an extensive drug-trafficking organization, possessed firearms at his home during the conspiracy and obstructed justice.

While building their case against Ojeda, agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration intercepted dozens of cellphone calls during which he and his accomplices discussed logistics for their illegal drug operations, according to court documents.

DEA agents arrested the Culiacan native in May 2007 while executing a search warrant on a home where he was living in San Diego.

Inside the residence, investigators seized three firearms, including a loaded rifle next to Ojeda’s bed, and a digital scale that tested positive for methamphetamine residue.

Ojeda’s trial began in May 2009. During its second week, the accused trafficker — after listening to dozens of intercepted calls where he heard himself using coded language to conduct drug deals, and witnessed the testimony of four cooperating defendants accused of receiving drug deliveries from him — managed to cut off a GPS bracelet he had been ordered to wear and flee to Mexico.

Following his escape, Ojeda was convicted in absentia. He eventually was arrested in Mexico and was extradited back to the United States two years ago.

Ojeda’s belated sentencing demonstrated that “the United States never forgets,” according to San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman.

“Ojeda listened to mountains of evidence against him and decided to flee,”¬†¬†Braverman said. “The outcome of this case is a reminder that the government will pursue those who peddle drugs and violence in our communities for as long as it takes, and (that) the consequences of running are severe.”

The case was part of a multi-year investigation that resulted in the arrests of 48 people and the seizure of 68 pounds of methamphetamine, 15 guns and roughly $295,000 in U.S. currency.