LITTLE ROCK—Patrick C. Harris, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Matthew Barden, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Little Rock District Office, announced Thursday, July 13, that a federal jury found Elsa Solis, 38, of Batesville, guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, and misprision in a case that involved smuggling 2.5 kilos of methamphetamine and $19,000 cash inside two car seats.
United States District Judge Kristine G. Baker presided over the three-day trial, which concluded Wednesday with the jury verdict finding Solis guilty on all counts. Solis will be sentenced by Judge Baker at a later date.
“It is reprehensible that a mother would use her children to attempt to conceal her methamphetamine smuggling,” Harris said. “This conspiracy involved multiple kilos of methamphetamine intended to poison our communities, and the hard work of everyone involved ensured a jury verdict which completes the successful dismantling of this dangerous drug trafficking organization.”
Solis is the final member of the charged conspiracy to be convicted. The individuals charged in the conspiracy included Solis and her boyfriend, Ivan Pedraza, as well as six others. Pedraza previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. The other six defendants also previously pleaded guilty to various charges associated with the case.
Testimony during the trial established that prior to the discovery of the loaded car seats on July 19, 2015, Homeland Security Investigations and the DEA intercepted two
packages which contained 18 kilograms of methamphetamine that were mailed from Mexico and addressed to the addresses of individuals involved in the conspiracy.
Evidence at trial included recorded wiretap phone calls between Pedraza and Solis. The phone calls were in Spanish and translations were provided to the jury. DEA Special Agent LeAnn Bakr explained to the jury how a wiretap is obtained, how calls are monitored, and that 11 such calls were selected and translated for the trial.
In the recorded calls the jury heard Solis agreeing to buy acetone, which is used by methamphetamine traffickers to rid the substance of impurities before sale. The recorded calls also documented a trip to Dallas taken by Pedraza, Solis, and her two children in July 2015. The jury heard calls that discussed how Pedraza and Solis needed to buy new car seats, since the others were left in Batesville. One call recorded Pedraza talking about how one car seat left behind was still loaded with “stew.” Former DEA Task Force Officer Ryan Temple, now with North Little Rock Police Department testified that “stew” was a code word for methamphetamine.
Officer Temple also provided surveillance during Solis and Pedraza’s trip to Dallas. He testified that Solis, Pedraza, and her two children drove to Dallas in a Honda Pilot on a Friday, and arrived in the Dallas area after midnight, only to leave early on Sunday morning less than 36 hours later.
Calls intercepted during the Dallas trip recorded Solis asking Pedraza if he had “fixed” everything while she had waited at the hotel pool and arcade with her children. Agents also overheard Pedraza planning the delivery with other co-conspirators and discussing how much methamphetamine was ready to be delivered when he returned to Arkansas.
Officer Temple testified that he and his surveillance team witnessed Pedraza receive the methamphetamine at the hotel after agents intercepted a call that stated that the co-conspirator would arrive at the hotel with a blender box.
After the Honda left the Dallas area that early Sunday morning, Arkansas State Police Trooper Timothy Callison performed a traffic stop on the vehicle as it entered Saline county. The trooper located methamphetamine, which totaled to 2.5 kilos, and $19,000 in cash, in the bottom of the car seats, which he noticed were abnormally heavy. The trooper was able to remove the bottoms of the car seats—discovering the methamphetamine and cash—with a drill that was also located in the vehicle. The trooper testified that the drill had only one bit, and it fit perfectly with the car seat screws, needing no adjustments. More than $1,700 cash was later found in Solis’ purse when she was in custody.
Law enforcement later located approximately $40,000 and more methamphetamine in subsequent search warrants executed on two homes related to the conspiracy in Batesville and one home in Little Rock.
The statutory penalty for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and for possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine is not less than 10 years’ imprisonment, not more than life, a $10,000,000 fine, or both, and not less than five years of supervised release. The statutory penalty for misprision, which makes it a crime to have knowledge that a crime is being committed while taking a step to conceal and not report the crime, is not more than three years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and one year of supervised release.
The investigation was conducted by the DEA, with assistance from the Arkansas State Police and other local agencies. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Erin O’Leary and Allison Bragg.