Southern California woman pleads guilty in meth conspiracy

A Southern California drug mule named Maria Luisa Mariscal, who was holding 27 pounds of cartel-grade crystal meth when she was arrested in Texas in April 2018 while en route to Cocke County, was sentenced this week.

Mariscal, who was facing a mandatory minimum 10-year federal prison term and significant quantity-related enhancements, was sentenced to just 41 months in federal prison. While Mariscal, a naturalized U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, the judgment sheet indicates she was held responsible for a lesser-included offense.

In January, the case was reassigned from U.S. District Judge Pamela R. Reeves to a judge in Michigan, which is also in the Sixth Circuit.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan L. Gomez sought and received permission to file the prosecution sentencing memorandum under seal.

Mariscal’s defense attorney, Jonesborough lawyer D.R. Smith, indicated in the defense sentencing memo that he was anticipating a prosecution motion for downward departure, but didn’t say why.

Smith indicated he believes his client was eligible for a series of offense-level reductions that would have brought her advisory guideline sentencing range to 57 to 71 months.

Mariscal cooperated fully during the early stages of the investigation.

After she was taken into custody in Texas, she agreed to try to deliver the haul to a trailer on Seabrook Street in Newport, according to Chuck D. Evans, a Drug Enforcement Administration task force member.

The would-be recipient got spooked and never showed, authorities say.

Smith represented that Mariscal, 45, was paid just $1,000 to transport crystal meth that federal officials initially estimated had a $1.4 million street value. Mariscal knew she was carrying an illegal substance, but didn’t know it was methamphetamine until she was taken into custody in Texas, according to her attorney.

“Such a paltry sum, certainly, would not trigger in Mariscal’s mind that she was transporting a significant quantity of methamphetamine,” Smith wrote in the defense sentencing memo.

The defense attorney suggested Mariscal’s cooperation continued for an extended period of time.

“(A)t the direction of law enforcement, she did make several calls and sent text messages to the woman who had set up her trip,” the memo states. “The woman never responded to the calls or texts and there was nothing more Mr. Mariscal could do, although she offered to take law enforcement directly to the woman in California who had arranged the trip.”

Mariscal was initially instructed to deliver the meth from Riverside, California to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As she approached the destination, she was instructed to carry on another 1,450 miles to Newport, according to the DEA agent.