Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Meth conspirator sent to prison

Utah man convicted of transporting half pound of drug


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Jose Benitez-Diaz

A Utah man was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for bringing a half-pound of methamphetamine to Blaine County last year for an illicit sale in Hailey.

Unfortunately for 28-year-old Jose Benitez-Diaz, the sale for $13,500 was made to an undercover Idaho State Police detective. Bruno Santos, the former boyfriend of convicted Bellevue murderer Sarah Johnson, is charged with selling the drugs.

Benitez-Diaz, who is sometimes described in court records as Santos' cousin, will be required to spend three years in prison before being eligible for parole. He is also accused of being in the United States illegally. At Monday's hearing, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said Benitez-Diaz will likely be deported once released from custody.

Fifth District Judge Robert J. Elgee gave Benitez-Diaz credit for nearly nine months already spent behind bars following his arrest on May 14. Benitez-Diaz and Santos were both taken into custody that day in a sting operation carried out by the Blaine County Narcotics Enforcement Team and the State Police.

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In a plea agreement, Benitez-Diaz pleaded guilty in December to a felony charge of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine, a crime punishable by up to life in prison. Under Idaho law, the crime has a minimum sentencing requirement of three years.

In sentencing, Elgee followed the recommendation of Thomas, who said the minimum fixed sentence was recommended because Benitez-Diaz was "just a carrier" and "not tied to the source."

Ogden attorney James Retallick, representing Benitez-Diaz, said his client is remorseful.

"This young man has recognized the problems he has caused to his family and himself," Retallick said. "If there was anything he could do he would change what happened."

According to court testimony, Benitez-Diaz has no prior criminal history in the United States.

Meanwhile, a jury trial for Santos, 27, on a felony charge of delivery of methamphetamine is scheduled to start March 1 in 5th District Court.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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