Department of Justice
For Immediate Release
Two Los Angeles Men Sentenced for Drug Conspiracy That Led to Murder
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK –Two men from Los Angeles, California, were sentenced yesterday for their roles in a conspiracy to acquire methamphetamine in California and distribute it in the Cortland, New York area, announced United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman, Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Sheriff Mark E. Helms, Cortland County (New York) Sheriff’s Office, and Chief Andrew Espinoza Jr., City of Barstow (California) Police Department. Edgar Arrendondo, 31, was sentenced to serve 240 months (20 years), and Jose Pimentel, 35, was sentenced to serve 151 months (12 years and seven months) in federal prison for conspiring to provide more than 50 grams of methamphetamine to co-defendant Kyle Leeper, who intended to distribute it in Cortland. Arredondo was also sentenced based on his possession in the Central District of California of a shotgun and ammunition as a convicted felon, and for possession of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. Both men were also sentenced to serve 5-year terms of post-incarceration supervised release.
Co-defendant Kyle Leeper was at the center of the conspiracy that trafficked methamphetamine from Indiana and Southern California to Cortland County, New York, where Leeper distributed it to local residents and drug dealers. In the fall of 2018, co-defendant Crystal Stephens, of Groton, New York, who was incarcerated in Indiana on burglary charges, contacted Leeper by telephone with contact information for co-defendant John Rice, an Indiana-based methamphetamine dealer. Leeper communicated with Rice by telephone and then travelled to and from Indiana twice in late 2018 and early 2019, where he obtained crystal methamphetamine and a .380 caliber pistol from Rice. Leeper distributed this methamphetamine in the Cortland area.
After Rice was arrested in Indiana in early January 2019, Leeper arranged to travel to the Los Angeles area to purchase more methamphetamine. From jail Crystal Stephens provided Leeper with telephone numbers for possible methamphetamine sources in East Los Angeles. In mid-January 2019, Leeper and an associate, co-defendant Ramon Nieves-Cotto, drove from Cortland to Los Angeles, where Leeper contacted one of these sources. The source sought assistance from co-defendant Arlene Rodriguez, who introduced Leeper to a middleman. On January 17, 2019, this middleman arranged for Leeper to buy three pounds of crystal methamphetamine for $5,000 from co-defendant Jose Pimentel. But after the methamphetamine was delivered to a motel in El Monte, California, Leeper realized that he had been shortchanged on the quantity delivered. Leeper abducted the middleman and Arlene Rodriguez at gunpoint. Later that day, Nieves-Cotto purchased zip ties, which Leeper used to bind the middleman. On the night of January 17, 2019, in the desert in Barstow, California, Leeper shot the bound middleman eight times from behind with the .380 caliber pistol, killing him. Leeper and Nieves-Cotto, along with Rodriguez, then drove to Cortland, where Leeper distributed the methamphetamine he obtained on this trip to California.
In early February 2019, Leeper, Nieves-Cotto, and Rodriguez returned to Los Angeles, where Leeper purchased an additional six to eight pounds of methamphetamine and a 9 mm pistol from co-defendant Edgar Arredondo. Upon his return to Cortland, Leeper, assisted by Rodriguez, began to distribute this methamphetamine. On February 19, 2019, officers from the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office stopped Leeper and Rodriguez while they were driving in Leeper’s pickup truck, which had an expired registration and cracked windshield. Inside the truck, the officers found four pounds of high-purity methamphetamine, the loaded .380 caliber pistol Leeper had used to commit the murder, and ammunition. They arrested Leeper, who previously had been convicted of state and federal felony offenses in Pennsylvania, and Rodriguez.
Five (5) other co-defendants previously pled guilty to participating in the drug trafficking conspiracy, and/or aiding and abetting the murder.
Kyle Leeper, 38, of Palmyra, Pennsylvania, was sentenced on November 18, 2022, to serve 40 years in federal prison for a murder committed during a drug trafficking conspiracy, conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, and possessing a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon.
Ramon Nieves-Cotto, 30, of DeRuyter, New York, pled guilty to aiding and abetting a murder during a drug conspiracy, and conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. He was sentenced on October 7, 2022, to serve 156 months in federal prison, and a four-year term of supervised release.
Crystal J. Stephens, 34, of Groton, New York, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. She was sentenced on November 15, 2022, to serve 100 months in federal prison, and a four-year term of supervised release.
Arlene N. Rodriguez, 38, of Montebello, California, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm in connection with a drug trafficking crime. She was sentenced on October 6, 2022, to serve 94 months in prison, to be followed by four-year term of supervised release.
John Rice, 57, of Crawfordsville, Indiana, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and was sentenced on January 12, 2023, to 63 months in federal prison and a four-year term of supervised release after incarceration.
A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, and other factors.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Cortland County (New York) Sheriff’s Office, the Barstow (California) Police Department, and the San Bernadino (California) County Sheriff’s Department, with assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Cortland County (New York) District Attorney’s Office, the Montgomery County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department, the Montgomery County (Indiana) District Attorney’s Office, the Pomona (California) Police Department, and the El Monte (California) Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven D. Clymer, Richard R. Southwick, and Thomas R. Sutcliffe, with assistance provided by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California (Assistant U.S. Attorney Benedetto Balding).