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Ralston man sent to prison for dealing meth

Rogelio Rodriguez Jr. Rogelio Rodriguez Jr.

Last summer, a jury rejected Rogelio Rodriguez Jr.’s arguments that state drug enforcement agents had the wrong man; last month, a judge rejected his request for probation.

District Court Judge Bill Simpson ordered Rodriguez to serve five to seven years in prison for helping to sell methamphetamine in 2014.

Noting a “very extensive” history of crimes that include a prior drug delivery and previous prison time, Simpson told Rodriguez that “I just do not believe that you are a good candidate for probation.”

“The issue is methamphetamine and I don’t need to tell you the kind of menace and harm that methamphetamine rained down upon this county, this town, Powell, this whole surrounding area,” Simpson said.

Rodriguez was convicted of helping sell one gram of meth for $150 back in October 2014 — an amount that one of his defense attorneys called “nominal in the scheme of things” in requesting a sentence of probation.

Judge Simpson differed in pronouncing the prison time.

“It’s been said before, and I believe it with every fiber of my being: Methamphetamine is the devil’s candy. It just twists people and it destroys lives,” he said. “So there is no such thing as a reasonable quantity of methamphetamine.”

Rodriguez, 38, declined to testify during a two-day trial in late May/early June and presented no witnesses or evidence in his defense.

Defense attorney Richard Hopkinson made the argument that Rodriguez had been in Texas at the time of the sale and that it was a case of mistaken identity — that authorities failed to prove Rodriguez was the one who made the sale.

After relatively brief deliberations, jurors convicted him of a felony charge of delivering a schedule II controlled substance.

Felony drug charges make up a significant percentage of the cases that pass through Park County’s District Court each year, but Rodriguez was the first person since early 2008 to go to trial in a drug case, district court records show.

One of the complicating factors in Rodriguez’s case was that the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation had been investigating another man and planned for another location.

The sale

The informant in the case testified things began after work on Oct. 20, 2014, when Cody resident Michael Rosacci texted and offered 1 gram of meth for $150. The informant said he agreed to assist DCI with the “controlled buy” to help his then-wife, who was facing criminal allegations.

The deal was supposed to go down at the Maverik store on Cody’s Big Horn Avenue, with Rosacci being DCI’s intended target. However, when the informant and his wife arrived at the convenience store, Rosacci was accompanied by a man he introduced as “Roy” and explained they would have to go to Ralston to pick up the methamphetamine, the informant testified. (Prosecutors said they believe Rosacci and Rodriguez sold the meth they’d originally promised to someone else; charging documents allege the two men told the informant they were making roughly their sixth sale of the day.)

The informant and his then-wife agreed to drive to the Good 2 Go store in Ralston, where they waited for an hour or two in the parking lot. Eventually, “Roy” approached their vehicle and handed over a small plastic bag of meth.

“Sorry about that,” Roy said of the delay, and they went their separate ways.

Based off of his voice, the way he carried himself and the fact that he was known as “Roy,” DCI Special Agent Juliet Fish believed the man was Rodriguez, who she knew from previously working at the Cody jail. After seeing a photo of Rodriguez, agent Darrell Steward also believed that Roy was Rodriguez. At last year’s trial, the informant testified he was “100 percent” positive Rodriguez delivered the meth.

Hopkinson, the defense attorney, countered that the agents didn’t see “Roy” clearly and jumped to the conclusion that it was Rodriguez; he also suggested the informant had been motivated to help his then-wife.

Park County prosecutors attempted to call Rosacci as a witness, transporting him to Cody from the state’s medium-security prison in Torrington, where he was serving a three- to five-year sentence for the 2014 drug sale and an unrelated misdemeanor. However, when he was called to the stand, Rosacci invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Trouble in jail

Prosecutors also attempted to introduce evidence of a January 2017 altercation inside the Park County Detention Center. That’s when Rodriguez confronted the informant — who was then facing an unrelated burglary charge — at a church meeting.

Rodriguez “punched [the informant] in the nose ... and shouted at him something to the effect of, ‘you mother[expletive]ing rat,’” Deputy Park County Prosecuting Attorney Leda Pojman wrote in a filing. Prosecutors argued that Rodriguez only knew the informant because he’d sold him the meth; the defense argued that word of an informant spreads throughout the jail.

Then-District Court Judge Steven Cranfill ruled that the evidence of the altercation was unduly prejudicial and inadmissible.

Rodriguez filed multiple legal actions against Park County Detention Center officers in federal court while awaiting trial. One of his claims was that he’d been “entrapped” by being allowed to be in the same room as the informant. He also alleged his mail was tampered with, that he’d been improperly extradited, that he’d been manipulated into accepting a package of boxers instead of briefs he was supposed to receive and that he was generally disrespected and harassed by jail staff. So far, his legal claims have been unsuccessful.

In addition to the altercation with the informant, Rodriguez got a citation for stealing from another inmate.

Rodriguez also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle for reportedly stealing his parents’ pickup in early November 2016. Authorities, who’d already been looking for him on the drug delivery charge, arrested him inside the vehicle in Billings days later. He’s been incarcerated since then.

Arguments

At Rodriguez’s Dec. 8 sentencing, prosecutor Pojman argued for a 10- to 12-year prison sentence, contending that Rodriguez had gotten away with much over a span of roughly two decades. She pointed to past crimes that she said included a burglary, a DUI hit-and-run, domestic battery, aggravated assault and a prior meth delivery in 2005, followed by probation revocations.

“Reckless, careless, violent, dangerous, smug, with disregard for the law, disregard for court orders, disregard for the safety and welfare of Park County. That, your honor, is the defendant, without question,” Pojman argued, later saying Rodriguez’s chances “have flat run out; enough is enough.”

Rodriguez and his defense attorney asked for probation or a shorter prison sentence.

“I just want to change my life and stop living that lifestyle that’s keeping me from what I have — family and stuff like that,” Rodriguez said, apologizing for his lifestyle and citing the negative influence drugs have had on his life. He added that, “I haven’t been there for anybody; I’ve been really irresponsible.”

Public defender Mitch Damsky of Gillette, who represented Rodriguez at sentencing, said his client had a tough life growing up and got off track.

“At this point in life,” Damsky said, “he wants to grow up.”

With treatment for his drug addiction and by learning other skills, “he would become a good, productive member of society,” Damsky said, noting that Rodriguez has a family willing to support him.

In imposing a five- to seven-year sentence, Judge Simpson encouraged Rodriguez to pursue as many opportunities as possible to deal with his addiction and further his education while incarcerated.

“I know you can do some good,” Simpson said.

He noted that inmates generally only serve about two-thirds of their sentence before being released on parole — meaning Rodriguez would stand to be released in a couple years — and he suggested he might consider reducing Rodriguez’s sentence at a later date.

“It doesn’t matter how much time you could have ahead of you,” the judge added, “if you don’t learn from these experiences.”

Rodriguez’s sentence was finalized in a written order that Simpson signed on Tuesday, clearing the way for him to be transferred from the Park County Detention Center to the state prison. That same day, the federal District Court in Cheyenne received letters from Rodriguez about two legal actions he wants to pursue, including a civil rights lawsuit for sexual harassment; Rodriguez wrote that a deputy at the jail recently made him feel uncomfortable with inappropriate comments.

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