Jockey turned meth kingpin sentenced to 32 years

Armando Rodriguez-Estrada

A former professional horse racing jockey, Armando Rodriguez-Estrada, rose to become one of the largest dealers of methamphetamine in the Grand Valley before his arrest last year, a prosecutor said Monday.

The man known as “Cuervo,” whom authorities spent the better part of two years investigating, was believed to have moved pound quantities of the drug since 2008.

Rodriguez-Estrada, 35, was sentenced by District Judge Brian Flynn to serve 32 years in state prison, the maximum term available to the judge after Rodriguez-Estrada’s guilty plea to distribution of meth.

Coupled with Friday’s 14-year prison sentence for 36-year-old Michelle Ortiz-Ramirez, criminal cases are now resolved for the pair who authorities claim commanded the two largest Mesa County drug organizations identified over recent years.

Rodriguez-Estrada and Ortiz-Ramirez were among 30-plus arrests announced in a sweep in June 2010.

Rodriguez-Estrada’s voice is heard on “thousands” of suspected drug transactions captured by court-authorized wiretaps, Chief Deputy District Dan Rubinstein told Flynn.

In one call, played aloud in court Monday, Rodriguez-Estrada is overheard taking an order for 1 ounce of “stuff” for one individual buyer.

“Within 40 minutes, he has that ounce ready,” Rubinstein said, noting the quantity is equivalent to about 100 doses.

In another cell-phone call, Rodriguez-Estrada asked a man whether he was getting more “good vitamins for the horses that made them run fast,” suspected code for a meth transaction.

Leigh Taylor, Rodriguez-Estrada’s attorney, suggested there was an innocent explanation for the conversation. Taylor said her investigator confirmed her client was employed as a horse trainer at a ranch in Rifle around the time of his arrest.

Formerly a high-stakes racing horse jockey in California and other western states, Taylor said Rodriguez-Estrada started using meth as a means to keep body weight down while remaining alert, both priorities for a jockey.

When he stopped racing professionally in 2006, Rodriguez-Estrada settled in Grand Junction as his use of the drug grew, she said.

Taylor was critical of several recent disparate sentences in meth-related cases, noting Rodriguez-Estrada was exposed to a maximum possible 32 years while Ortiz-Ramirez received 14 under a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s office.

Rubinstein said the generous terms for Ortiz-Ramirez were offered because of her cooperation with the investigation, including extensive interviews about her drug organization.

Rodriguez-Estrada offered no such cooperation, he said.

Flynn on Monday also pointed to Rodriguez-Estrada’s two prior felony convictions for imposing a harsher prison term.

His record includes convictions in 2007 for possession of a controlled substance, for which he was placed on probation.

In 2008, he was convicted of criminal impersonation and sentenced to a year in prison.

Rodriguez-Estrada was twice deported from the United States as a suspected illegal immigrant after his convictions, Rubinstein said.


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