MARYSVILLE — A teenage boy who fled violence and extreme poverty in rural Mexico promised his mother he would make a better life for her and his father.
Socorro Alejandres-Alvarez headed north and settled in Oregon where he had family. He worked on farms and in construction. He also met a friend, who became a mentor. The older man, who was married with children, worked on a Stanwood dairy. Alejandres-Alvarez moved to the area and began working at a dairy, sending money home.
Alejandres-Alvarez became “rudderless” when his mentor, the man’s wife and their two children were killed in a 2013 car crash in Eastern Washington, Seattle attorney Neil Fox wrote in court documents.
His client descended into the drug world. Alejandres-Alvarez, 26, was sentenced last week to seven years in federal prison for dealing large quantities of heroin in the Marysville area. He faced up to nine years behind bars.
“Heroin wreaks havoc on the lives of addicts and their families,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Hampton wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Alejandres-Alvarez took a lead role in slinging large amounts of “this deadly substance.”
“More troubling here, Alejandres-Alvarez is not only a significant drug trafficker. He is an armed drug trafficker,” Hampton wrote. “There can be no mystery why he brought a gun to a drug deal. Drug trafficking is a dangerous business, no doubt. Doing so armed, however, is a recipe for disaster.”
In September, a federal grand jury indicted Alejandres-Alvarez and a second man, Juan Carlos Ortiz-Ramos, after an investigation by Homeland Security and the Snohomish Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. The men were caught selling heroin to a police informant.
The informant reported to detectives that Alejandres-Alvarez offered to sell him up to 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds of heroin, at a price of $1.8 million, according to court documents.
Investigators set up surveillance on his Marysville home last summer. The informant arranged a drug deal outside the Tulalip Walmart. During that deal, Ortiz-Ramos retrieved a black duffle bag loaded with heroin from Alejandres-Alvarez’s home. Police arrested the defendants as they drove away.
Detectives found a loaded handgun and a broken cellphone on the floorboard of the pickup truck. They also found 11 pounds of heroin in the duffle bag.
Alejandres-Alvarez said he’d picked up the drugs earlier in the day in a parking lot in north Seattle. He told police he’d only known his supplier for a week but declined to say anything more about the man.
Ortiz-Ramos was sentenced to two years in prison for his part in the operation. Alejandres-Alvarez pleaded guilty to three drug-trafficking felonies and a weapons charge.
He deserved more time behind bars for his bigger role in the trafficking ring and his use of a firearm, Hampton wrote in court papers. The 7-year sentence takes into account the defendant’s limited criminal history and his relative young age. It also takes into account his background, Hampton added.
The defendant’s attorney told the court his client grew up in extreme poverty in a rural hamlet in the state of Michoacán. The family lived in a house with a dirt floor. There was no running water, indoor plumbing or electricity. He and his siblings often went hungry.
At age 10, Alejandres-Alvarez left school to work the land, Fox wrote in court papers. When he was a teenager, violence exploded between the drug cartels battling for power. Gangsters took refuge in small villages, including where Alejandres-Alvarez and his family lived. The cartels forced his family to grow marijuana and sell it back to them at a cheap price, the court was told.
The cartels also forced young men to join their efforts. One of the defendant’s cousins was murdered. “Faced with mounting gruesome violence and essentially a life of peonage,” Alejandres-Alvarez left his home at 17. His flight was “part of larger migration which should be viewed no differently than Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS or Jewish refugees fleeing Czarist-inspired pogroms in pre-Revolutionary Russia,” the defense attorney wrote
The young man was so desperate for a new life that he walked for a week across the Sonoran Desert to reach Arizona, according to court papers. He was caught twice trying to cross the border.
The poverty he endured and exposure to extreme violence “makes him less morally culpable than others who have had every advantage in life,” Fox wrote.
The defendant’s sister wrote the judge, asking for leniency. Her brother, she wrote, fled Mexico to help his family, including his elderly parents. He provided them and his siblings money, never asking for anything in return.
“Socorro is not a bad person. It’s that circumstances sometimes lead us to (make) the wrong decisions and to go down the wrong path,” the woman wrote.
The punishment must make it clear that those who contemplate a similar path will be met with little tolerance, Hampton wrote.
Heroin deaths rates in the U.S. have quadrupled over the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mexico produces nearly half of the heroin sold here. Afghanistan is the largest producer in the world, supplying Europe and Asia. The Mexican heroin trade is mostly run by the notoriously violent Sinaloa cartel that for decades controlled the pipeline of cocaine and marijuana shipped to the U.S.
The defendant “must understand that the narcotics trade is not a viable option, and a lengthy sentence will communicate that loud and clear,” Hampton wrote.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.