Berkeley man taken into federal custody

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A Berkeley man is in federal custody in Sacramento after he was indicted by a federal grand jury for possessing cocaine and methamphetamine with intent to distribute, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced Thursday that Roberto Ceja Sandoval, 44, has been charged with a two-count indictment after over 11 pounds of powder cocaine and about five pounds of methamphetamine were found in a car he was driving, according to court documents. The illegal drugs are worth at least $225,000, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesperson Special Agent Casey McEnry.

On April 20, a Shasta County Sheriff's Deputy pulled Sandoval over after noticing that he was driving 71 miles per hour on Interstate 5 near Redding, Calif. - an area with a speed limit of 65 miles per hour - according to court documents. The documents allege that while the deputy was issuing Sandoval a warning for the speeding infraction, another sheriff's deputy arrived with a drug-sniffing dog named "Darco" who then smelled drugs in the car.

In hidden compartments in the side walls of both the passenger and driver sides of the vehicle, the deputies found ten brick-sized packages of cocaine and five packages of a substance containing crystal methamphetamine, according to the court documents.

The documents allege that Sandoval told the sheriff's deputies he was driving from Berkeley to Oregon to visit his daughter and knew nothing about the drugs that were found in the car. The documents also state that Sandoval said he had borrowed the car from a man in Ontario two days prior to go visit his daughter but could not provide his daughter's address or phone number.

Although Sandoval lives in Berkeley, he is a legal resident alien from Mexico, and he said that he works as a self-employed mechanic, making $4,000 to $5,000 a year, according to the court documents.

An arraignment in federal court in Sacramento is set for May 5 on two counts of possessing cocaine and methamphetamine with intent to distribute.

The case is a joint investigation by the Shasta County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Lauren Horwood, the federal government only becomes involved in cases where drugs are suspected to be used for reasons other than personal use.

"With (Sandoval), it's a huge amount," she said. "With him, there was no question."

She said there is no specific threshold for illegal drugs to be considered for distribution purposes, but key giveaways are possession of scales and firearms.

If convicted, Sandoval could face life in prison, according to the department's statement.


Contact Soumya Karlamangla at [email protected]

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