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Four cases end in federal effort to curb Tenderloin drug sales

SAN FRANCISCO — Four criminal cases filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office as part of an ongoing effort to reduce drug sales in the Tenderloin district have resulted in sentences ranging from four to 12 months, court records show.

The defendants were all described by prosecutors as low-level drug dealers, arrested after making cocaine or heroin sales to undercover officers for as little as $15. The sentences were handed down last week, and the defendants were among the first to be sentenced in the so-called Federal Initiative for the Tenderloin or FIT, aimed at prosecuting drug traffickers specifically in the Tenderloin

Last August, Northern California District U.S. Attorney David Anderson the start of FIT, and said at a news conference a federal task force had found evidence of sophisticated drug trafficking rings were behind much of the drug sales in the neighborhood, many involving Honduran nationals, with narcotics being brought to the Bay Area to from Mexico. Some of the drugs were held in Oakland by middlemen, before being brought to the Tenderloin to be sold.

These four defendants all came to the United States from Honduras, all with the intent to escape their poverty-stricken backgrounds. Their attorneys described each of the defendant’s upbringings in similar terms, with descriptions of living in homes without running water, working menial jobs for as low as $2 per day, and being subjected to physical or sexual abuse.

The defendants included Jesus Flores, who was sentenced to time served — effectively, the five months he spent in county jail awaiting resolution in his case — for selling $15 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover officer on August 22. Authorities searched him and found, “$932 and dozens of bindles of heroin and methamphetamine in his possession in a false-bottom can,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

Pedro Muncia — whose last name is also spelled “Mancia” in court records — was arrested the same day as Flores for selling $20 worth of heroin to an undercover officer. He was found with, “$996, 18 bindles of heroin, 17 bindles of crack cocaine, and 4 bindles of methamphetamine in his possession,” prosecutors say, and was also sentenced to time already served.

Wilmer Lainez, 34, was sentenced to 10 months in federal custody, after prosecutors noted his “lengthy” criminal history, which includes prior convictions for selling crack cocaine in San Francisco. He was arrested in June, after an officer allegedly observed him make two fentanyl sales within a few minutes. He was found with small amounts of various drugs, as well as $982 and two cell phones, prosecutors say.

Lastly, Carlos Licona was sentenced to one year and one day in jail, in a case where he sold a little more than two grams of crack cocaine to an undercover officer for $18. He was arrested in July, two weeks after a prior arrest for, “trying to sell cocaine base to police officers and threatening the owner of a business in front of which Licona was allegedly selling drugs,” prosecutors said.

Sentencing memos in the four cases also revealed the tragic backstories behind each defendant’s arrest. Licona, for instance, had been working at a laundry company in San Mateo and living in Oakland, and started selling drugs after losing that job, being robbed and beaten in Oakland, and being unable to gain reemployment for five months.

Each defendant was living in abject poverty in Honduras before coming to the United States, and faced abuse, loved ones being killed, and other severe hardships, their attorneys wrote.

“After attending school through only age 9, Mr. Lainez began working in the fields to support his family,” his attorney, assistant public defender Sophia Whiting, wrote in a sentencing memo. “The farming fields were the only consistent work available and the pay was meager at approximately $2 per day. In light of these conditions, at just 16 years old, Mr. Lainez decided to make the dangerous journey north, hoping to be able to provide some financial support to his family.”

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