BISMARCK - A drug trafficking case that began with a routine traffic stop in northwest North Dakota concluded this week as a man affiliated with the Mexican Mafia was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced this week that David Saul Salazar, 49, Packwood, Wash., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland for charges related to trafficking meth and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The case against Salazar began in January 2017 when Berthold Police Chief Al Schmidt stopped a vehicle with illegal window tint on U.S. Highway 2. Salazar and two others, Gregorio Capetillo and Luis Parra Magana, were initially arrested for possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
One red flag as police tried to take inventory of the impounded vehicle was discovering the trunk had been disabled, Schmidt said in an interview this week. He later learned the vehicle had a special button in the glove compartment that prevented the trunk from opening with a key or with the trunk release.
After obtaining a search warrant, Schmidt said he discovered the trunk contained 10 pounds of meth along with cocaine, marijuana and a rifle with a clip capable of firing many rounds. At the time, it was the largest quantity of meth ever seized in North Dakota.
“Because of disabled trunk and the whole situation, I kind of suspected there might be something in there, but not to that extent,” Schmidt said.
The arrestees were traveling from Washington state to Minot to distribute the drugs, the investigation showed. Additional work by state and federal investigators revealed the organization had made previous trips to North Dakota to distribute multiple pounds of meth.
Salazar was a member of the Surenos gang, which is affiliated with the Mexican Mafia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Hovland previously sentenced Capetillo to serve 10 years in prison and Parra Magana to serve about 3.5 years.
Schmidt said it’s satisfying to know the three received significant prison sentences and are no longer able to distribute drugs in North Dakota.
Also this week, Hovland sentenced another man in an unrelated meth trafficking case that dates back to a 2016 investigation in Bismarck and Minot.
Dennis Allen Corwin, 37, Minot, was sentenced to 12.5 years in federal prison for charges related to drug trafficking, money laundering and possessing several guns. After Corwin was arrested in Bismarck, investigators found about five pounds of meth and 30 firearms between his vehicle and shop in Minot, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Meth is still the primary drug that we handle at the federal level,” said U.S. Attorney Chris Myers.