The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 4, 2013

Plea deal pulled after suspect refused to implicate wife

Accused meth dealer could face additional charges at trial

By Dan Nienaber dnienaber@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — An Austin man who had reached a plea deal in a major methamphetamine dealing case will instead face additional drug charges when he goes to trial because he refused to implicate his wife in the January drug sting.

Reynaldo Rivera Jr., 60, and Josefina Villa, 48, were arrested January 8 in a drug sting set up by an investigator with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The investigator, who was working with law enforcement officers in Mankato and Austin, reported the couple delivered more than a half pound of methamphetamine. The amount of the drug recovered could have a street value of more than $20,000, depending on quality.

Rivera was set to accept a plea deal in May, but the deal was withdrawn by Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Chris Rovney. As required, Rivera had to admit to the basic facts of the case that substantiated a crime. Rovney said he withdrew the deal because Rivera insisted that Villa rode with him to Mankato, but knew nothing about the drug dealing.

“We have evidence that shows otherwise,” Rovney said. “There were phone calls, etc.”

During a court hearing this week Rovney also said he is planning to file an amended criminal complaint that would have additional charges for other Mankato drug deals that took place before January. There were previous deals that took place in the Target parking lot at the River Hills Mall. Rovney said those deals also involved several ounces.

Even so, it wasn’t enough to entice federal agents and prosecutors to take over the case, Rovney said. “They only deal with pounds.”

After setting up those previous deals, investigators were watching Rivera and Villa closely Jan. 8 as they left their residence in Austin at 7:30 a.m. and drove toward Mankato. Law enforcement officers who were following the couple reported they dropped a third person in Blooming Prairie on their way.

They had initially planned to meet the agent at the mall again. But the officers following Villa reported she turned north on Blue Earth County Road 27, just east of Eagle Lake, and pulled over to the side of the road. Rivera then got out of the van, opened its hood and took a dog for a walk in a ditch.

An informant the BCA agent was using to translate calls with Rivera reported that Rivera had called and said he was out of gas. Rivera asked the informant to send the agent out to them to help them get fuel.

Once the agent arrived, Rviera walked him down to a culvert in the ditch and handed him a laundry detergent box. A plastic bag inside the box contained about nine ounces of a white powder that tested positive for methamphetamine, the criminal complaint said. Another half ounce of the drug was allegedly found when the couple’s house was searched by Austin authorities after their arrest.

Villa is currently scheduled to go to trial July 24 for two felony counts of first-degree drug sales and two felony counts of first-degree drug possession. However, Rovney said she could also face additional charges before the trial starts.

A request to allow Villa to be released from jail until the trial was denied by District Court Judge Gregory Anderson. In the motion, Villa’s former attorney, Tracy Bains, argued that prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence for a conviction. Villa is now represented by Manuel Guerrero

“There is no evidence alleged that Ms. Villa participated in any direct or actual drug sales or that she possessed any controlled substances,” Bains said in her written motion.

Rivera’s trial is scheduled to start Sept. 10. Both trials are scheduled to last three or four days.