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Saturday, December 23, 2023

Federal Judge Rejects Lenient Plea Deals for Cartel Linked Street Dealers in San Francisco

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

From the SF Chronicle by Megan Cassidy

San Francisco police arrested a man on Ellis Street suspected of dealing drugs. A federal judge in San Francisco rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors and defense attorneys that would have allowed two dealers to avoid additional jail time before being deported. 

A federal judge in San Francisco has slammed prosecutors for not seeking harsher penalties for suspected Tenderloin drug dealers, rejecting plea deals in two cases because the defendants would not spend any time in prison before being deported to their home country of Honduras.

US District Judge William Alsup wrote in a sharply worded order Tuesday that he could not accept the proposed sentences presented to him by federal prosecutors and defense attorneys because they were “far too lenient” on the dealers. Both were caught selling fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid that Alsup called “Public Enemy Number One,” citing remarks by Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Joe Biden, as well as the drug’s role in San Francisco’s record overdose deaths this year.

Alsup expressed concern that the dealers would simply return to the United States to resume selling fentanyl and said he wanted to send a message to cartel leaders. He noted that the cartels who oversee a large part of the Tenderloin drug trade recruit almost all of their dealers from Honduras’ Siria Valley, which the SF Chronicle reported in an 18-month investigation published this year. 

The court cases are related to an ongoing police-led crackdown on open-air drug scenes in the Tenderloin and South of Market.

But no matter where the dealers come from, “no prison time will be a valuable recruitment tool” for future dealers, Alsup said. The judge’s demand for prison time in the two Tenderloin cases reflects a larger debate about how the criminal justice system should respond to street-level dealers.

Federal officials have been moving to rapidly prosecute people accused of selling drugs in San Francisco. But local and federal public defenders have pushed back, calling the operation an end-run around San Francisco’s sanctuary policies intended to protect immigrant communities, saying it perpetuated a failed strategy of pushing arrests and deportations as solutions to the drug crisis.

Alsup has previously decried the no-prison deals as too lenient, even before his most recent order. And he does not appear to be alone in his thinking on the federal bench: US District Judge James Donato has declined to accept a plea deal in another San Francisco drug-dealing case — also involving a defendant born in Honduras — because it was “not consistent with the goals of sentencing and the ends of justice,” according to a court filing.

Both of the defendants involved in the plea deal Alsup rejected faced up to 20 years in prison. 

Sentencing guidelines that weigh the severity of their offenses and criminal histories would recommend 30 to 37 months for one of the defendants, Jose Alfredo Lainez Banegas, and 37 to 46 months for the other, Marlon Gustavo Valle-Acosta, Alsup wrote.

A city-run "Safe Use Center" was closed last year.

Under Mayor London Breed and Gov. Gavin Newsom, local and state police have worked together to arrest hundreds of drug dealers while the federal government proceeds with its operation as well. Breed has even directed city police to arrest some drug users if their behavior makes them a danger to themselves or others. 

Newsom, Breed, and other local officials also recently announced the formation of a new task force that will investigate some opioid deaths in San Francisco as homicides, with murder charges against certain dealers possibly arising next year.

Deporting fentanyl dealers without making them spend time in prison first “sends exactly the wrong message,” Alsup said in his order.

“It’s an open invitation to come to San Francisco to sell fentanyl,” Alsup wrote. “The worst that might happen to a dealer, if apprehended, will be a free trip home with no prison time. Given the cartel’s practice of recruiting its sales force from the same community, word of this extreme leniency will circulate quickly. Instead, the message should be loud and clear — if you come to sell fentanyl in San Francisco, you will go to prison (and then be deported).”

It’s not clear whether Alsup’s ruling will prompt attorneys to stop trying to use the federal fast-track program for Tenderloin drug-dealing cases. The US Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the cases when contacted by the Chronicle. Officials with the Office of the Federal Public Defender did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Operation All Hands on Deck

The fast-track prosecution approach is a key component of US Attorney Ismail Ramsey’s crackdown on Tenderloin fentanyl dealing, dubbed Operation All Hands on Deck.

Ramsey said the urgency of San Francisco’s opioid crisis — and the large number of low-level dealers — required cases to be handled with a speed rarely seen in federal court. To resolve cases more quickly and free up prosecutors to continue advancing Tenderloin cases, Ramsey’s office offers some low-level drug offenders plea deals that involve probation, stay-away orders from the Tenderloin, and no additional jail time.

Undocumented people who agree to the deal are turned over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for deportation proceedings. A Chronicle review last month of the 16 fast-tracked plea deals found that 14 of the defendants were undocumented. Thirteen of those defendants were Honduran and one was from El Salvador.

The crackdown, which intensified in October ahead of the APEC Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the city, combines forces from local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to arrest drug traffickers. The program has increased the share of defendants charged in federal court, where the risk of a lengthy prison sentence and deportation for noncitizens is much higher than in cases tried in San Francisco Superior Court.

Before the latest operation, San Francisco’s federal agents typically focused on more high-level narcotics cases, which typically took months or even years to investigate. Ramsey said recently that those lengthier probes will continue, but that federal agents are now also arresting and prosecuting lower-level dealers. In a recent interview with the Chronicle, Ramsey said he’s directed every federal prosecutor to take on at least one drug-dealing case.

When the Chronicle asked about criticisms that the fast-track deals were too lenient in late October, Ramsey stressed that the deals were offered to first-time, low-level offenders who would have probably otherwise landed in San Francisco Superior Court.

“Under that system, they may have been under diversion programs or pled to misdemeanors … and wouldn’t have had real consequences,” he said. Those who accept the fast-track offers are convicted of a federal felony, he said, and face more serious consequences if they’re caught selling drugs again in the Tenderloin.

Judge's Recommendations

Nearly all defendants with similar case backgrounds considered by federal courts in recent years were sentenced to prison, Alsup said. He recommended a 14-month sentence for Valle-Acosta and a four-month sentence for Lainez Banegas. He said he had weighed the “prompt acceptance of responsibility” reflected in the defendants’ guilty pleas and the “youth” of Lainez Banegas.

Alsup was skeptical of prosecutors’ assertion that the plea-deal program was intended for street dealers with scant criminal history who weren’t supervising others or supplying large amounts of drugs. Street dealers rarely have a significant amount of drugs on them because they carry only what they need for the day and sometimes hide part of their supply with others, he said. And the dealers aren’t supervisors, because they represent the end of the drug distribution chain.

But Alsup was mindful of recent comments by Garland, who said that “every link” in the “global fentanyl supply chain” should be broken up by the government. To accomplish that goal, “street-level dealers must also be prosecuted and go to prison,” Alsup said.

He admitted it is “very hard” to link specific drug deaths back to individual dealers. But he said it “is not hard” to trace most of San Francisco’s fatal overdoses “as a group back to the Tenderloin vendors as a group, all of whom together make up the last link the chain of distribution — the last link that saw those victims alive.”

Alsup expressed additional concerns that federal prosecutors would move to dismiss the cases if the defendants withdraw their guilty pleas now that he’s rejected their plea deals. He said that was exactly what happened in two other cases before him, so he instructed prosecutors to discuss his concerns with Justice Department leaders before moving forward.

Alsup also invoked recent comments by Ramsey’s office that it was seeking to “raise the stakes by holding drug dealers accountable in the federal system.”

“How can dismissing these cases be ‘raising the stakes’?” Alsup asked. “How can no prison time be ‘raising the stakes’?”


  1. Alla en san francisco ay bandas de catrachos que chambean wn coordination con celulas de distribution de la 4 letras de Oakland y Sacramento

    1. redwood city, oakland y moesto 🆖

    2. Son de Centro perro andan en la maña

  2. There's this thinking here in the Bay that we shouldn't prosecute low level dealers, which comes from a good place, but I think it neglects how much of this fentanyl problem exists on a global scale. These are the same drugs we don't want our kids and loved ones die from using. Therefore, we shouldn't let these dealers that are abroad continue their cycle of abusing young people to peddle their drugs here, while they do other crimes in their countries, the kind that would be unspeakable here.

    1. These crimes are unspeakable anywhere.
      Unspeakable crimes occur in a law enforcement vacuum (like San Francisco, where Mayor Breed and Governor Newsom helped create what they're now pretending to clean up).
      US District Judges William Alsup and James Donato are punishing the unspeakable.
      Gracias Dios.

  3. It's within a trial judges discretion to reject a plea deal that he feels is inappropriate. However, it is very rare for judges to exercise this discretion. Dismissal and deportation is the norm for low level offenses. It's nice to see judges put a little teeth into the law.

  4. Lock them up throw away the key if you don't come to work and contribute to this country send them back.we have enough local lowlifes we don't need to import them.

  5. Tanta.prisa.en.venir.para me

  6. Tanta.prisa.en.venir.para me

  7. While some defendants got "lucky" in not being sentenced to many months of prison and readers of BB can possibly be outraged by that, after these undocumented individuals are convicted of drug crimes they will need to go before an immigration judge who will note their convicting crimes which very likely will be within those classified as "aggravating felonies". Those "aggravating felonies" have consequences(months of incarceration)attached to them if someone illegally re-enters the USA as it will be very difficult and expensive for anyone with a trafficking crime to get a travel visa and possibly achieve legal status here.

    1. You're right. They'd have trouble entering the US legally in the future if they showed up at the border with real passports with their real names etc.

      Thing is, the cartels move anything they want in or out of the US, and any other country, any time they want. They might lose a few shipments, but most gets through. Certainly enough to make it deadly profitable.

      We all know its happening right now, organized down to dime bags on the streets of our town, where we live.

      To quote a good old movie set in Mexico: "Papers? We don't need no focking papers!"

      In the US, we need more judges like Alsup and Donato.

      And a sensibly secured border wouldn't hurt.

  8. When a big fish gets caught the system will be looking to get the most money from these guys thru sweet deals, they get a low level guy that has no money and they act like they are doing justice ain't no body believes their bullet anymore

  9. The situation in SF is utterly out of control….

  10. Them central American immigrants and families have turned a great city into a 3rd world ghetto....mass deportation is the only solution

  11. Yeah so tough on cartels but when it comes to motherfuckers that shoot up schools, Churches and malls let's treat these guys like depressed babies that know no better than to murder people.
    This way after twenty years in a psych ward they can plead a full recuperation from their problems and perhaps be released from their captivity as well.
    Not unheard of

  12. Always been a Michocacan and CJNG presence in Bay Area


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