Wednesday, April 8, 2009

'Mayor of Suntree Hollow' going down

Confessed cocaine dealer faces 14-year prison sentence

Express Staff Writer

Angel Lopez Lira

Police sometimes referred to him as "the mayor of Suntree Hollow," a residential area of log cabins and older mobile homes on the east side of state Highway 75 across from St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.

Blaine County court documents state that Angel Lopez Lira referred to himself as "the general of this town," a man who "has contacts that will take care of things for him while he is in jail."

Cocaine buyers sometimes called him "Don Angel."

Fifty-one-year-old Lira, a longtime Blaine County resident, is now facing a possible 14-year prison sentence after pleading guilty last week to two felony counts of trafficking in cocaine. In exchange, eight other felonies against him were dismissed, including six drug-dealing charges and two counts of witness intimidation for allegedly threatening two police confidential informants.

Lira is currently free on bond, $75,000 on the drug charges and $25,000 for the alleged witness intimidation, which is a separate case.

A review of Blaine County court records shows that Lira has had 31 cases before the court since 1996. A few of them are civil cases. Many are speeding or other traffic violations. He's been convicted twice for misdemeanor disturbing the peace, in cases that were pleaded down from more serious charges. Lira has been arrested three times on DUI charges. He was convicted once and the other two were reduced to reckless driving.

He has no prior drug convictions, but a lengthy undercover investigation by the Idaho State Police Investigations Division, headquartered in Jerome, led to eight felony cocaine charges and Lira's arrest in June 2008. He was indicted later that month by a Blaine County grand jury on three counts of trafficking in cocaine, three counts of delivery of cocaine and two counts of delivery or possession of cocaine in the presence of children.

The witness intimidation charges were filed in September, when Lira allegedly threatened two confidential informants, men who made controlled drug purchases for ISP investigators. Court records identify the men as John Lopez-Macha, also known as "confidential informant No. 170," and John Pena-Poma, also known as "confidential informant No. 224."

Court records list a Hailey address for Lopez-Macha and state that he was born in 1981. Records state that Pena-Poma lives in Ketchum and was born in 1983.

Records further state that Lopez-Macha has been arrested twice in Blaine County on charges of driving under the influence. He was convicted of DUI in 2008 and given a withheld judgment on a DUI charge in 2005. He was convicted in 2007 and 2006 of fish and game violations.

Pena-Poma has no criminal record other than traffic violations and a conviction in 2008 of "depositing snow on a public street."

A probable-cause affidavit filed against Lira by ISP Detective Richard Garcia identifies confidential informant No. 224, or Pena-Poma, as the man who made numerous cocaine purchases from Lira for the undercover operation.

The Garcia affidavit documents numerous cocaine purchases made by Pena-Poma from Lira between December 2007 and March 2008. Most of the purchases were made in front of or inside Suntree Hollow cabin No. 4, where Lira lived with his family.

The Blaine County Narcotics Enforcement team had only minor involvement in the drug buys, assisting ISP on two occasions. On others there was no county narcotics team involvement and ISP conducted the purchases with assistance from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The affidavit states that in all instances, searches were conducted on Pena-Poma, both his body and vehicle, before and after the drug purchases to make sure he did not possess "any contraband or money."

The Garcia document states that the purchases gradually escalated during the course of the investigation. The first was for an eighth of an ounce for $200. The largest purchase was two ounces for $2,400.

Telephone conversations between Lira and Pena-Poma were recorded and stored on a disc. Pena-Poma was also wired with a recording device and those conversations were taped and kept as evidence against Lira.

Lira pleaded guilty on March 31 to two counts of trafficking in cocaine. Court records state that he pleaded guilty "freely and voluntarily because he is guilty of these charges."

In accord with a plea agreement, the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office will recommend that Lira be sentenced to 14 years in prison, with six to be served before he is eligible for parole.

Court records state that "the defense is free to argue for less." Lira is represented by Hailey attorney Douglas Werth under Werth's public defender contract with Blaine County.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 1 at 10 a.m. before 5th District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee.

Court records indicate that Lira has legal residency status in the U.S., but could face deportation for the felony convictions.

Terry Smith:

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