Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jun 2007
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Palm Beach Post
Note: Does not publish letters from writers outside area
Author: Allyson Bird, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


PALM BEACH GARDENS - It wasn't the kind of discovery police expected
to make in the upscale Mirasol neighborhood: $300,000 cash and drugs
in a closet, and a man who said he dealt the drugs for a Mexican ring
that threatened to kill his family if he turned on them.

But the March discovery by Palm Beach Gardens police on routine
warrant sweeps ended with the conviction Thursday of Andres Zarco
Pineda, 30, who pleaded guilty in federal court to possession with
intent to distribute at least 500 grams of cocaine.

Prosecutors dropped a charge of possession with intent to distribute
at least 500 grams of methamphetamine in exchange for his plea. He
will forfeit the cash and a silver 2000 BMW 328i he used to move the
drugs as part of a plea agreement.

Police found Pineda by accident. They came to his home in the 24000
block of Portofino Circle because they were looking for a friend of
his who was wanted on a domestic battery charge.

Pineda allowed officers inside, with one of the officers commenting
"bonita casa," or pretty house, according to the arrest documents. The
other noticed a biography, The Real Pablo Escobar, on a shelf.

It wasn't until one peeked into a walk-in closet that they saw stacks
of cash wrapped in green cellophane and rubber bands. One officer
found a bundle in a yogurt box, according to the report.

When officers asked him what was in the bundle, Pineda lowered his
head and said, "Coca."

By night's end, police had seized a kilogram of cocaine and more than
2 kilograms of methamphetamine, worth as much as $1 million on the

They also, according to their report, found a substance used to cut
drugs, rolls of cellophane, duffel bags and ledgers that investigators
believe were used to record drug transactions.

Pineda will be sentenced at a separate hearing. He faces a maximum of
40 years in prison and a $2 million fine. Because he is in the United
States illegally, he will be deported. But prosecutors will not push
for even the five-year minimum sentence as long as he continues to
cooperate with authorities.

Reading Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Bell's report, Assistant U.S.
Attorney John McMillan said Pineda told authorities he was part of a
larger operation that would kill his family in Mexico if he turned on

Pineda's attorney, Robert Adler, said after the hearing, "I used to
say there is no fear of retribution for testifying. I don't think a
defense lawyer can say that now."

Pineda told police he'd been at the Mirasol apartment only eight days
and that he drove the drugs to Palm Beach Gardens in the BMW, which
was registered to Maria Salud Mendoza of Freemont, N.C., the report
says. He told them the money went back to North Carolina.

Mendoza and Eduardo Valencia, the friend police were originally
looking for, are not named as codefendants in Pineda's case.

Officer Ellen Lovejoy, Palm Beach Gardens police spokeswoman, said the
investigation remains open.

Officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration, which adopted the
case, could not be reached for comment.

At his hearing, Pineda sat with his arms pulled together tightly in
his blue jumpsuit until U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Vitunac asked if he
was OK.

"It is cold, and I'm nervous," he said.

Answering her questions, Pineda revealed that he has a wife and four
children back in Mexico. That he made it through sixth grade. That he
has never been to court before.

Asked if he used illegal drugs, he said, "Not for me."
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