Marshall man gets more than 9 years for sale of cocaine

WILLMAR -- A Marshall man involved in the sale of about 10 ounces of cocaine to undercover authorities was sentenced to more than nine years in prison Oct. 12.

WILLMAR -- A Marshall man involved in the sale of about 10 ounces of cocaine to undercover authorities was sentenced to more than nine years in prison Oct. 12.

Steven Morales, 24, pleaded guilty to two of three felony charges Aug. 15. He faced three counts of first-degree controlled substance crimes after investigators with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and several drug task forces purchased cocaine from Morales and Narcizo Jimenez Flores, 25, of Willmar, on three separate occasions between January and February of this year.

An undercover drug agent, with the help of a confidential informant, purchased 2 ounces of cocaine on both Jan. 13 and Jan. 24, and 6 ounces of cocaine on Feb. 13.

On all three occasions, the agent wore a recording device and paid with cash pre-recorded by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, according to the complaint. The sales were arranged through cell phone calls, and the transactions took place in the Willmar Wal-Mart parking lot.

Judge David L. Mennis sentenced Morales to 86 months and 110 months for both charges with the prison time set to run concurrently. Morales was also fined $2,000 and given credit for 241 days already spent in jail. Morales faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine for each charge.


Before his sentencing, Morales and his attorney, George Hulstrand Jr., filed a motion for a downward departure on the sentencing.

A downward departure can be granted by a district court and allows for a less-than-typical sentence for the convicted crime.

The motion for the departure cited numerous reasons for the lesser sentencing, including: the fact that Morales was never in serious trouble before these offenses, that he had fallen in with the wrong crowd and that he hoped to take custody of his baby daughter after her mother gave her up.

A letter to the judge dated Aug. 24 and written by Morales' brother and sister-in-law stated that the time Morales had already spent in jail would "scare him from doing anything like it again," referring to the drug sales.

As further evidence for the departure, Hulstrand states in a court document dated Oct. 11 that, "[Morales] testified he was paid about $100 for his part in the conspiracy."

Hustrand went on to question whether putting Morales in prison at a cost of around $50,000 to taxpayers per year was cost effective.

In a memorandum in opposition to the departure submitted by prosecuting attorney Connie Crowell, first assistant Kandiyohi County attorney, she states that "none of [the] excuses are sufficient mitigating factors that would justify a downward dispositional or durational departure." Crowell went on to point out that the court must find that the conduct was less serious than that of a typical crime of the same nature.

"Defendant Morales was 23 years old at the time of the offenses; old enough to choose his friends and associates," Crowell said in the memo.


Crowell attacked Morales' reasoning for the departure stating that his true motive was greed and that he showed a lack of insight and conscience. "Thinking he would not get caught is not a mitigating factor, nor is it even a good excuse," Crowell stated.

"If that were enough for a departure, every criminal would get one."

Mennis denied the motion for the downward departure before sentencing Morales.

Flores, was sentenced earlier this year on two first-degree controlled substance crimes.

He originally faced five first-degree controlled substance crime charges.

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