Suspect enters not guilty plea to Federal charges Monday staff report
ALBUQUERQUE — Vidal Sandoval, 45, a Colfax County Sheriff’s Deputy from Cimarron, N.M., was arrested Friday, March 13 in Raton by the FBI and the New Mexico State Police (NMSP) according to the U. S Attorney’s office. Sandoval is charged with aiding and abetting drug trafficking. He was taken into federal custody pending an arraignment and detention hearing which was held Monday, March 16. Sandoval is charged with aiding and abetting an attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute in Colfax County, N.M. on Feb. 28, 2015. The unsealed search warrant outlines exactly how and why the FBI and New Mexico State Police investigated Sandoval beginning in July 2014. An FBI agent explained how Sandoval stopped two men in a vehicle with Arizona license plates in June in Colfax County. According to the search warrant, he seized marijuana they purchased at a dispensary in Colorado and $10,000 cash. He didn’t provide the men with a receipt for the seizure. A NMSP Officer later stopped the same men for following another vehicle too closely in Cibola County. The men explained how they had already been stopped once before. The officer grew suspicious of the circumstances and contacted Colfax County dispatchers, who informed him that Sandoval had made the initial stop. According to the FBI, when the officer contacted Sandoval and asked him about the case, Sandoval denied taking any cash. The FBI and New Mexico State Police launched an undercover investigation from there. Between December 2014 and February 2015, they ran three undercover operations against Sandoval by pretending to be drug runners. They targeted him by having him conduct traffic stops on them. Through the operations, Sandoval offered them protection by offering to escort drug loads north to the Colorado border and
to escort vehicles carrying large sums of money south. According to the search warrant, Sandoval offered “to help them by providing information on where other marked patrol officers were located to avoid detection…” In exchange, he said he wanted 5 percent of the bulk cash going south to Mexico. By the end of last month, undercover agents said Sandoval communicated with them, and, in his marked unit, escorted them to the Colorado border while they were transporting two kilos of cocaine. The undercover agents said they provided him $5,000 in cash at the beginning of the trip from the Wagon Mound exit off Interstate 25. Then, upon arrival to a rest area in Colorado at the border, the undercover agents paid Sandoval an additional $5,000 in cash. Altogether, the allegations provide the evidence federal prosecutors will need to try to prove Sandoval intended to commit a crime. The FBI conducted five searches in connection to the case including checks of two cell phones Sandoval uses, his department vehicle, his home and the Colfax County Sheriff’s Office itself. A federal judge placed Sandoval on pretrial release after he entered his not guilty plea on Monday, March 16. Among the conditions of the release, he cannot discuss the case with anyone other than his attorney. Colfax County Sheriff Rick Sinclair declined to comment citing an “upcoming internal investigation.” The indictment seeks a money judgment in the amount of at least $19,500, the proceeds Sandoval allegedly obtained as a result of his unlawful conduct. According to the Albuquerque Journal, Sandoval is an 11-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and was a 2014 candidate for sheriff. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1988 until 1992 and was an officer in the Raton and Clayton Police Departments If convicted of the offense charged in the indictment, Sandoval faces a mandatory minimum five years and a maximum of 40 years in federal prison. This case was investigated by the Santa Fe and Albuquerque offices of the FBI and the New Mexico State Police, and the Colfax County Sheriff’s Office is cooperating in the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean J. Sullivan is prosecuting the case.