A Hennepin County District Court judge sentenced Pedro Ayala-Leyva to a 30-year prison sentence Dec. 4, a state record for a drug crime, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Ayala-Leyva, 37, who was known as Peli, was the last of 11 major defendants to be found guilty in the eight-month investigation by St. Paul and Minneapolis Police Departments, the FBI and other agencies of a major methamphetamine (meth) ring. A jury convicted him of conspiracy to commit first-degree controlled substance crime.
Ayala-Levya was associated with the La Familia Michoacana Mexican drug cartel. Police and FBI investigators used wiretaps and surveillance to build the case and seized 16 pounds of meth, worth more than $500,000, and two handguns.
The case involved smuggling meth from California to Ayala-Leyva’s stash house in Brooklyn Park and another in Cottage Grove. The drugs were then distributed through their network, which extended into St. Paul, St. Cloud and Eau Claire, Wis. The case peaked on Feb. 18 when investigators asked the Minnesota State Patrol to stop Daniel Samorano as he was driving a red Subaru Outback from California. The stop was made in Lakeville and a search of the car revealed a hidden compartment and 10 pounds of methamphetamine.
Senior Hennepin County Attorney Hilary Caligiuri and assistant Hennepin County Attorney Maximillia Utley argued for a significant upward departure from the approximately seven years recommended by Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Regina Chu agreed, citing the three aggravating circumstances the jury found in the case. Judge Chu said that Ayala-Leyva’s leadership of the drug ring put a number of people at significant risk, involved more than three people and moved a major controlled substance from California to dealers and buyers throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
“It’s good to give the ringleaders and kingpins the significant prison time they deserve,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement.
“This is a perfect example of coordinated law enforcement and prosecutorial effort,” said Gregory Boosalis, division counsel for the FBI’s Minneapolis office. “Investigative resources of the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, made up of personnel from the police departments of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, focused its resources to dismantle a dangerous criminal organization linked to an international drug cartel. The conviction and sentence is a major victory for the citizens of Minnesota.”
Eight other lower-level participants will go on trial in January and February.