Monday, February 13, 2006
Steamboat Springs In the first day of trial for a Steamboat Springs man accused of selling methamphetamine near Soda Creek Elementary School, jurors listened to two hidden wire recordings of the alleged transactions.
Cosme Orlando Lopez, 23, appeared in Routt County District Court on Monday to face felony charges of meth and cocaine distribution. Officers with the Greater Routt and Moffat County Narcotics Enforcement Team, or GRAMNET, arrested Lopez and his roommate, 42-year-old Jesus Alvarez-Frias, at their home on Pahwintah Street in June.
Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James said Monday that the home is only 148 feet from the school, well within the 1,000-foot perimeter that, by law, increases the severity of charges the men face.
In his opening statement before District Court Judge Paul McLimans and a jury of 10 women and two men, St. James outlined two transactions -- one each on June 9 and June 10 -- in which an undercover informant purchased $200 worth of meth from people at the home, allegedly Lopez and Alvarez-Frias.
Lopez's attorney, public defender Trevor McFee, said prosecutors have not done enough to identify all of the people inside the home at the time or to specify who was involved in the transactions.
"You will hear about the evidence they failed to investigate," McFee said.
GRAMNET officer Matt Harmon, also in court Monday, paid the informant to conduct the transactions while wearing a hidden audio-recording device.
Despite objections from McFee, Judge McLimans allow--ed St. James to play audio recordings of the transactions while the informant sat on the witness stand.
Although the 9 1/2-minute recording from June 9 and the five-minute recording from June 10 contain heavy static, background noise including music and unclear conversations in Spanish and English, several voices -- particularly the informant's -- are clearly audible several times.
"Can I hook you up, bro?" a voice asks the informant on the June 9 recording.
"For the ball, how much?" the informant asks, referring to the street term "Eight-ball," meaning an eighth-ounce of meth or cocaine.
Lopez and Alvarez-Frias are charged with distribution of cocaine and meth because they allegedly offered both drugs, even though both transactions involved only meth.
McLimans acknowledged Monday that much of the recordings do not provide clear evidence.
"The court would analogize this, to some extent, to a fuzzy photograph," McLimans said. "There is certainly some difficulty in discerning precise statements."
The informant and the defendant used to work together at a convenience store in Steamboat. In the recordings, the informant displays at least a slight friendship with the voices in the home, talking about plans to drink beers at Steamboat Lake, an upcoming date with a woman and at one point, noticing people in the home playing dominoes.
"We play all the time," a voice in the home says, shortly after an alleged transaction.
McFee's cross-examination of the informant, to be continued today, focused on other people in the home during the transactions. The informant said two white men he did not know were in the home June 9 and that a person he "had never met before" and could not describe was in the home June 10.
The trial will re--sume at 8:30 a.m. today. McLimans said the trial is expected to conclude today, as well.