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Local detention officer busted on drug charges

Two arrested so far for narcotics smuggled into Las Animas County Jail

by Bill Knowles

TRINIDAD — A local detention officer who had been working at the Las Animas County Jail has been arrested for smuggling drugs into the jail and delivering them to an inmate.

Eric Sanchez, 27, from Trinidad, and Joseph James (Joe) Cordova, 66, also of Trinidad, were arrested in connection to the case.

A third man, Steven Nash Valdez, 28, of Trinidad is also expected to be charged.

Eric Sanchez, 27, left, and Joseph Cordova, 66, right, were both arrested and charged with felony charges of first degree introduction of contraband. Photos courtesy Las Animas County Jail

The investigation begins

The investigation began when an unnamed detention officer approached sheriff’s deputy Ethan Cantoria about the possibility of narcotics in one of the cell pods at the jail and requested assistance.

A shakedown was conducted of the pod, as well as a pat down and strip search of the inmates. Detention staff and deputies recovered several items listed in an affidavit for an arrest warrant. Contraband items found included small pieces of burnt foil, a small piece of metal sharpened to a point, pens, and a strip search of an inmate recovered a lighter. Methamphetamine and heroin were also found.

One of the items found in the shakedown was a small note written on a torn piece of paper found in a manila envelope marked with the initials “SNV” on the bunk of inmate Steven Nash Valdez. Instructions in the note described the use and delivery to the jail of illicit narcotics. The contents of the note led Cantoria to believe that a detention officer was also involved in the delivery scheme.

The investigation expanded, and the sheriff’s office began monitoring phone calls to and from Joe Cordova. In one of the calls, Cordova was given the phone number of detention officer Eric Sanchez. Cordova was informed, in a later phone call to use the phone number and call Sanchez.

Surveillance shows

Surveillance video of the jail’s parking lot shows a truck, known to be driven by Cordova, pulling into the parking lot at the detention center. It then leaves without anyone getting out of the truck. Sanchez is observed going out to the parking lot to the area the truck had parked before reentering the facility to serve lunch.

Based on the phone calls, deputies set up surveillance in the Tony’s Diner parking lot across the street from the Shell Gas Station at 731 E. Main. A truck matching the description of the truck seen entering and leaving the detention center’s parking lot was observed by deputies to pull in the Shell Gas Station parking lot, where a meeting between Cordova and Sanchez took place. Cordova is seen leaning into the passenger side window of Sanchez’s vehicle.

At this point, Larry Martinez, the lead investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, was called in to help with the case and, according to the affidavit, read Sanchez his Miranda Rights. Sanchez answered Martinez’s questions “about the allegations of introducing contraband into the Las Animas County Detention Center”.

The interview

• During the interview, Sanchez is alleged to have stated that he brought four different envelopes into the Las Animas County Detention Center at the request of inmate Valdez.

• That he delivered the envelopes to inmate Valdez even though he knew he should not do so.

• That he thought the envelopes could possibly contain illegal drugs. That when he felt and smelled the envelopes, they smelled like beef jerky or felt like candy bars.

• That he had been paid by Valdez on the fourth delivery of an envelope with a food stamp card, which had over $100 in value on it.

• That he had brought to the detention center on Jan. 18, 2018, an envelope he was to deliver to inmate Valdez and had left it on the front seat of his vehicle.

Wrapping it up

The envelope was later observed inside the vehicle on the passenger side of the front seat of Sanchez’s vehicle. The Trinidad Police Department was called and a K9 unit was dispatched to help the investigation. Following a positive reaction to drugs by the dog, a search warrant was issued and executed by investigators on Sanchez’s car, where two envelopes were recovered. One contained two candy bars and the other contained two small plastic baggies. One baggie tested positive for methamphetamine, the other tested positive for heroin.

Sanchez has been charged with introduction of contraband in the first degree, a fourth degree felony. Cordova was also arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit first degree introduction of contraband, a fifth degree felony in the same case. Both men bonded out of jail.

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