Pubdate: Sun, 15 Feb 2009
Source: Hanford Sentinel, The (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Lee Newspapers
Author: Joe Johnson
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


When Chowchilla resident Violet Azlin visited California State Prison,
Corcoran in June 2007, she was arrested and searched by officers.

What they found was $11,000 worth of narcotics and evidence of what
some local prosecutors are calling the most complicated drug
conspiracy in the history of the Kings County District Attorney's Office.

"This case is exceptional in its complexity," Deputy District Attorney
Ty Ford said. "Usually, prison drug-smuggling cases like this only
involve an inmate and his girlfriend, or an inmate and a family
member. It's pretty small. This is easily the most complicated case of
this type we've ever seen."

Azlin was caught on June 30, 2007 trying to smuggle drugs into the
California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility at the state prison.

The conspiracy started with a series of telephone calls between Azlin
and her son, Shawn Dearing, an inmate at Corcoran Prison serving a 16
year sentence for possession of methamphetamine. Investigators say
recorded conversations between Azlin and Dearing often "made no sense"
when transcribed and led them to believe the mother-son pair were
actually talking about narcotics.

Dearing later admitted in court how he was getting the drugs and how
he and his mother used the code name "Sue" to indicate narcotics
during their phone conversations. Another inmate, David Morales, was
also acting as a go-between for Dearing and Azlin, giving her
information on how and where to get the narcotics.

When Azlin, 57, entered the prison on June 30, 2007, she was arrested
and searched by officers. She was found to be carrying three bindles
of methamphetamine and one bindle of marijuana. The methamphetamine
totaled around 34.8 grams, while the marijuana weighed in at 6.2 grams.

All of the drugs were located in Azlin's underwear. Ford said she cut
a 2-to-3-inch strip out of a sock, then sewed it into the crotch of
the underwear to be used as a pocket. The underwear was confiscated
during the search.

But Azlin's arrest was only the tip of the iceberg in this

Dearing led officers to Armando Maciel, a convicted sex offender who
ultimately became Azlin's co-defendant at trial, even though the two
had never met. Maciel facilitated the prison drug trade by bringing in
an outside party, his niece Marisol Ruiz, to transport the drugs from
Los Angeles to Azlin.

Ruiz would later plead guilty to drug transportation charges, and tell
authorities that she received the drugs from yet another party, a man
named Johnny Torres. Further testimony revealed that Torres, who has
not yet been arrested by investigators, was acting on instructions
from fellow Corcoran prison inmate Ricardo Geraldo.

The drug chain originated with Geraldo soliciting Johnny Torres to get
the drugs in May 2007, who handed them off to Marisol Ruiz, who
delivered them to Violet Azlin, who then tried to sneak it into the
prison to her son, who investigators described as an "aspiring prison
drug dealer."

The money for the deal came from Merced County resident Karen Mohler,
a woman who claimed she was delivering the money as a favor to her
inmate friend, Thurman Gaines. Under Gaines' direction, Mohler
transferred money to Torres and Azlin without any knowledge of what
the money would be used for, Mohler claimed.

The Kings County District Attorney's Office has implicated at least
nine people believed to be involved in the criminal conspiracy, with
people both inside and outside the prison playing key roles.

Azlin's trial lasted for six days and ended on Jan. 20. She was found
guilty of five separate felonies for the transportation of a
controlled substance and conspiracy charges for possession of drugs on
prison grounds. She could be facing nine years in custody when she is
sentenced on Feb. 26.

Ruiz received a promise of felony probation in return for her

Maciel is serving three separate sentences for continuous sexual abuse
of a child. For his involvement in this conspiracy, he could be facing
an additional 25 years to life imprisonment tacked onto his current

Both Maciel and Dearing were previously convicted of felonies for
possession of narcotics while in prison, according to Ford.

Defense attorneys for Azlin and Maciel have asked to review the case,
seeking the basis of a new trial prior to sentencing. The Sentinel
attempted to contact these attorneys for comment on the case but they
could not be reached prior to publication.

Other investigating correctional officers on this case included
Officer Kenneth Jimenez, a sergeant who testified regarding
confessions from Maciel and Dearing; Officer Ryan Couch, who testified
about a confession from Azlin and Officer Janet Anders, who recovered
the narcotics during the strip search.

In a separate issue, Azlin is currently in custody at the Hacienda
Health Care facility on Grangeville Boulevard. Kings County Jail
officials claim Azlin's health issues are "beyond the capacity" of
what they can handle.

Defense Attorney Melina Benninghoff, standing in for Azlin's attorney,
argued that Azlin needs to remain in protective care because of her
health-care needs. She suffered a stroke soon after she was arrested.

Judge James LaPorte ruled in court following Azlin's trial that she
would remain at the facility until is sentenced.

Ford argued that allowing Azlin to stay at Hacienda Health Care would
be a danger to the community.

"If I had a relative in there, I wouldn't want a guilty criminal
around them," Ford said. "The folks living there don't deserve to be
around someone who otherwise would be locked up in county jail."

The case will return to court on Feb. 26 for sentencing of Ruiz. Azlin
and Maciel will be sentenced the following day.
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