On Tuesday, Zekiel Biard became the first of five arrestees to enter a plea after a multi-agency investigation into a suspected Cortez drug trafficking ring.
Biard, who has been out of jail on bond since late May, pleaded guilty in Montezuma County District Court to distribution of meth, a class 3 drug felony. His plea agreement stipulates a sentence of probation instead of the normal two- to four-year prison sentence that such a charge carries.
District Judge Todd Plewe tentatively accepted the plea pending a presentence investigation.
The 26-year-old was arrested May 15 along with fellow Cortez residents Sherri and Lyndel Clark, who are suspected of supplying meth and heroin to the Four Corners area. Their arrest, along with that of California residents Jessie Valenzuela and Rommel Aviles-Reyes on May 13, was the result of a monthslong investigation by local law enforcement and the Southwest Drug Task Force.
On Tuesday, prosecuting attorney Matthew Margeson said Biard’s felony charge was for selling meth to a confidential informant on Sept. 13.
But he agreed with defense attorney Jason Eley that probation would be a better sentence than jail for Biard, since this was his first felony offense.
“The DF3 plea is appropriate, but prior to incarcerating someone for what could be a long period of time, we should look at whether there’s a possibility of rehabilitation,” he said.
He said the only other criminal offense on Biard’s record was a traffic violation and added that he has followed all the court’s rules while out of custody.
Eley said Biard “made some bad decisions,” but that he believed he was unlikely to fall into criminal behavior again.
At Eley’s request, Plewe ordered a modification to Biard’s pretrial services agreement that would allow the suspect to remove the ankle monitor he has worn since his release. Biard’s sentencing hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., Sept. 18.
On July 11, the Clarks waived their right to preliminary hearings, and are scheduled to enter pleas on Aug. 16 and 21.
In a court appearance on Wednesday, Aviles-Reyes also waived his preliminary hearing and had an arraignment scheduled for July 27.
Aviles-Reyes’ defense attorney, Kelly McCabe, said he has been offered a plea agreement that would require him to plead guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, a class 3 drug felony. It would stipulate a two-year deferred judgment on sentencing, he said, due to the likelihood that Aviles-Reyes will be deported in the near future.
Valenzuela’s preliminary hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, has been postponed to Aug. 18 at the request of his attorney, Brian Williamson.
This article was reposted July 24 to clarify that none of the suspects have yet indicated how they intend to plead.