Israel Mendoza Cervantes, 29, has been sentenced to thirty (30) years in prison following a jury trial in Lexington County General Sessions Court earlier this week. Cervantes was convicted on all charges, including Trafficking Heroin (28 grams or more); Possession of a Weapon during commission of a Violent Crime; and Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine. Circuit Court Judge Daniel D. Hall imposed a sentence of 25 years on the Trafficking Heroin charge, 15 years concurrent on the Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine charge, and 5 years consecutive on the weapon charge. This results in an active sentence of thirty (30) years. Under South Carolina law, Trafficking Heroin is classified as a violent crime and Cervantes is not eligible for parole.
A co-defendant, Angel M. Ibarra, was also convicted of Trafficking Heroin following a jury trial in Lexington County in May. Ibarra was sentenced to twenty five (25) years for his role in the narcotics trafficking operation.
In September of 2018, narcotics agents with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department shared intelligence with narcotics agents from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD NET) regarding “Ace” a/k/a Angel Ibarra and “Migo” a/k/a Israel Mendoza Cervantes, who had moved into Lexington County. Richland County investigators had determined that “Ace” and “Migo” were involved in selling heroin.
LCSD NET agents opened their own investigation into Ibarra and Cervantes and began surveillance of Ibarra’s residence at Leica Lane in the West Columbia area of Lexington County. The investigation determined this residence was the center of Ibarra and Cervantes’ drug enterprise. During surveillance, NET officers were able to view behavior consistent with trafficking in illegal narcotics.
After conducting surveillance on Ibarra’s home and after known heroin transactions by Cervantes and his associates, LCSD NET agents obtained a search warrant for Ibarra’s residence. That search was executed on the morning of October 24, 2018, with LCSD NET and SWAT agents, as well as Richland County officers. Notably, Cervantes had just returned to the house from a drug transaction prior to the arrival of SWAT.
As SWAT officers approached, they saw the door to the shed close and observed Cervantes peek through the front window at them. Once the door to the shed was breached, Cervantes was lying face down on the floor with his hands out. Within feet of him, and within his reach, were 4 firearms, packaging materials, digital scales, money, heroin, cocaine, and cutting agents.
Cervantes was immediately taken into custody and admitted that everything in the shed, to include the drugs and guns, were his and Ibarra’s. He further admitted that he and Ibarra used the shed for their drug enterprise.
During the execution of the search warrant, LCSD NET agents found approximately 105 grams of heroin, 3 digital scales, approximately $3,000 in cash, cutting agents, balloons used for packaging the heroin, 3 rifles, 1 handgun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the shed.
11th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Kelly Oppenheimer and Senior Assistant Solicitor Angela G. Martin prosecuted this case. Oppenheimer serves as coordinator of the Drug Prosecution Team within the Solicitor’s Office.
During the sentencing hearing, Assistant Solicitor Oppenheimer presented statistical information regarding 53 overdose deaths attributable to heroin in Lexington County since 2018. “To deal in such a potent drug was unconscionable,” stated Oppenheimer.
Cervantes will be transported to the S.C. Department of Corrections to begin immediate service of the sentence. Ibarra is currently incarcerated at the Department of Corrections.