I-5 stop near Medford leads to Alaska prison sentence

An Alaska man will serve a federal prison term for attempting to traffic pounds of cocaine and marijuana before Oregon State Police stopped him on Interstate 5 near the south Medford exit.

Carlos Zavala-Flores, 39, of Juneau, Alaska, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Alaska to three years in prison for his admitted role attempting to bring six pounds of cocaine and 22 pounds of marijuana into the Juneau, Alaska area last year before his effort was thwarted by a Southern Oregon traffic stop.

Early the evening of April 26, 2017, an Oregon State Police trooper stopped Zavala-Flores and passenger Jorge Armando Lopez-Villareal, 28, driving a gray 1999 Chevy Tahoe SUV with California plates, for failing to maintain a lane on northbound Interstate 5 near the south Medford interchange, according to court documents and earlier news reports.

Earlier this year, Lopez-Villareal and Zavala-Flores each pleaded guilty to felony drug conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Alaska.

During the traffic stop, the OSP trooper noticed a strong smell of marijuana the two men reportedly tried to mask with fabric softener dryer sheets. A consent search yielded 22 one-pound packages of marijuana and 2.749 kilograms of cocaine, according to a court document filed last week by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Zavala-Flores’ case, which described the quantities involved as a “significant amount of drugs for Juneau, a community of 30,000.” Troopers also found $6,750 in cash on Lopez-Villareal, who will be sentenced in September.

The investigation showed that Zavala-Flores and Lopez-Villareal flew from Juneau to Los Angeles on April 19, 2017. Zavala-Flores was the registered owner of the SUV, and the pair intended to drive north on I-5 from southern California to Seattle, where they then planned to ship the vehicle to Alaska with the drugs inside.

“Zavala-Flores’ crime potentially placed a significant portion of Juneau’s population in danger, if it had not been for the interception of the vehicle by the OSP,” according to the sentencing brief filed May 25 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt.

Schmidt sought a four-year sentence for Zavala-Flores at the hearing Friday, according to a report from the Juneau Empire.

Larry Roloff, Zavala-Flores’ public defender based in Eugene, said in court documents filed the same day that his client’s role in the scheme “could be characterized as a ‘mule.’ ”

“Specifically, he did not know the amount of the drugs or the specific nature of the drugs that were involved,” Roloff wrote.

Zavala-Flores has followed all directions since his arrest, according to Roloff, remaining in Oregon as directed by Jackson County Circuit Court until July, when the case became a federal matter.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess sentenced Zavala-Flores to three years in prison followed by five years of post-prison supervision, according to Juneau Empire reports, which also note that Zavala-Flores has a prior 2012 drug conviction in Juneau Superior Court after he was implicated as an informant in a drug deal the year before that ultimately sent twin brothers to prison. Zavala-Flores pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor counts of possessing a controlled substance in the Alaska case.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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