Angel Lopez Lira was described in court Wednesday as a family man, a hard worker, a legal resident and a community leader. But now, Lira is headed to prison following conviction of two felony counts of trafficking in cocaine.
Blaine County 5th District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee sentenced Lira to 14 years behind bars, with six of them to be served before he is eligible for parole.
After that, Lira, 51, will likely be deported from the United States and never allowed to legally enter the country again. He leaves behind a family, including two children.
Sentencing followed guilty pleas by Lira in March to two counts of drug trafficking. In exchange for the pleas, the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office agreed to drop eight other felony counts against Lira, including six drug-dealing charges and two counts of witness intimidation. Following his arrest, Lira allegedly threatened two police confidential informants who bought cocaine from him.
Lira was arrested in an Idaho State Police undercover operation that was conducted in Blaine County in late 2007 and early 2008. The ISP Investigations Division used two Peruvian nationals as confidential informants in building a case against Lira. Those two men were moved out of the area following the public release of their names.
At Lira's sentencing, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback said that the ISP drug purchases started small and gradually increased. Prior to his arrest, Lira was discussing future sales of up to a pound of cocaine, Fredback said.
Some 20 friends and family members attended the hearing. Many of them wept openly after the sentence was announced. Lira only shrugged, as if he had already accepted his fate.
No witnesses were called but Fredback acknowledged that the court had received numerous letters from friends and family members of Lira describing him as a good father, a good family man, a good community member and a hard worker. Fredback said that the letters, however, do not address a darker side of Lira.
"He is a figurehead to the Hispanic community in this town," Fredback said. "He knows that and uses it to his advantage."
Fredback said that when Lira allegedly threatened one of the Peruvian drug informants at a soccer game in Hailey, Lira told the man that he was the "general in this town" and had the ability to "take someone down."
"He's nothing more than a drug dealer," Fredback said. "He had others selling drugs for him. He tried to take one [confidential informant] under his wing and teach him to be a big-time drug dealer like himself. It's clear that Mr. Lira is a professional criminal."
Public defender Douglas Werth told the court that Lira is originally from Mexico but has lived in the United States for more than 25 years.
"He is here legally now," Werth said. "He has brought his entire family up here with him."
Werth acknowledged that Lira has several prior misdemeanor convictions but said "this is the first time Mr. Lira has been charged with a felony."
"He's been a strong supporter of his family and that bears very favorable on his character," Werth said. "He has been active in the community. He has been a single parent to his two kids, ages 11 and 12. He has been there as a full-time dad."
Werth said Lira worked as a construction foreman and sometimes supervised up to 20 workers.
He said Lira "will be deported from the United States after he serves his time in this case and he will not be permitted to return."
"His children, he's not going to be able to visit them in the United States ever again," Werth said.
Lira, speaking through an interpreter, briefly addressed the court and apologized "for the hurt I have caused."
"I'm very regretful," Lira said. "I'm losing my life here in the United States, and my family. I have always been good father. I have always worked very hard for my family. I know that I have committed some errors and I know that you're going to send me to prison."
Judge Elgee rejected a defense plea for a lesser sentence and went along with the recommendation of the Prosecuting Attorney's Office.
"It is the court's belief that there is significant criminal activity in this case," Elgee said.
Lira, who had been free on bond, was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Terry Smith: email@example.com