Carlos Mauricio Figueroa, 62, of Azusa, Calif., was sentenced to 15 years in state prison by Judge Quillian Baldwin.
Figueroa was indicted on charges of trafficking meth, as well as traffic violations — following too closely and failure to maintain lane. The traffic violations were the basis of the original stop on Interstate 20 in Carroll County.
Figueroa pleaded guilty to the lesser included offense of a Level 1 possession charge, which accuses the defendant of having between 28-200 grams of the substance.
The charge was lessened in consideration of the guilty plea, but Assistant District Attorney John Cunningham said Figueroa still pleaded guilty to a trafficking offense.
Cunningham also said the officers with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office who originally stopped the man and eventually searched his vehicle aided in the decision-making process about the negotiated plea bargain. The ADA said the officers were “pleased” with the result.
Baldwin also levied a fine of $200,000 against Figueroa, whose lawyer, Atlanta attorney Bruce Harvey, said would not be able to be paid. That number is the mandatory minimum fine Baldwin is required to levy.
“He can’t afford it,” Harvey said. “He shouldn’t be penalized for not being able to pay it. I know it’s a mandatory fine — I just wanted to have that on the record.”
Figueroa was placed into handcuffs and taken into custody immediately after the plea was completed.
Figueroa was stopped on Feb. 2, 2012, during a routine traffic stop. He was driving a 2006 Ford F-150 at the time.
Carroll County Sheriff Terry Langley said 45 pounds — about $1.6 million worth — of crystal meth was found in the floor of Figueroa’s truck.
Due to the amount of the drug that was found, Figueroa faced a minimum prison sentence of 25 years and up to a $1 million fine, if convicted by a jury.
Langley said that it is believed that Figueroa was en route to Atlanta from San Antonio, Texas, when he was stopped on I-20 in Carroll County.
“Atlanta is now a hub for drug traffickers,” he said. “It goes to the Atlanta area and goes north or south and some ends up back here. What’s great about this bust is that it (seized) 45 pounds of the most deadly drug I’ve seen in my time in law enforcement.”
He said that the sheriff’s office normal arrests for methamphetamine possession yield very little in comparison to the amount confiscated by law enforcement during the traffic stop. The 20 kilograms of methamphetamine discovered that day is more than was collected by the sheriff’s office for the entirety of 2010.
“I have no doubt this individual was a trafficker and a smuggler,” Langley said. “It’s a huge, huge amount, and we’re glad that it’s off the street.”
Harvey had motioned to exclude evidence found because of what he called an “illegal search” which violated Figueroa’s fourth amendment rights.
“This officer was not invited into the vehicle,” Harvey said. “And once he got back to his car, he immediately initiated a drug investigation. This was not a traffic stop — this is nothing more than a drug investigation at that point.”
The court heard from the officer who stopped Figueroa last February, Deputy Chad Sheriff of the Interstate Crime Unit.
Sheriff testified that he noticed a heavy odor of methamphetamine the moment he opened the truck’s passenger door. Figueroa’s passenger window was not operating correctly, Sheriff said, forcing him to open the door.
Baldwin ruled to deny Harvey’s motion to suppress the evidence, saying that the “search” when Sheriff leaned into the door was not an invasion of the man’s privacy or Fourth Amendment rights.