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Drug courier gets prison for role in ‘web of violence and devastation’

A semi driver who moved narcotics from California to Michigan as part of a cross-country drug ring was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for contributing to what a federal prosecutor called a "web of violence and devastation.''
Credit: Kent County Jail
Miguel Raya, 31, sentenced to prison for his role in a California to Michigan drug operation

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A semi driver who moved narcotics from California to Michigan as part of a cross-country drug ring was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison for contributing to what a federal prosecutor called a “web of violence and devastation.’’

Federal investigators say Miguel Raya is responsible for more than 200 pounds of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl transported by semi-truck in 2017.

Raya is one of 21 defendants prosecuted for an elaborate drug operation that came crashing down in a series of pre-dawn raids throughout metro Grand Rapids over Labor Day weekend. One man was shot in the raids, which netted multiple kilos of narcotics and more than $1.2 million in cash.

“Heroin, fentanyl and other opiate distribution has been a scourge in our country and in Michigan,’’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen P. Baker wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Every gram of drugs (Raya) helped deliver to customers in Grand Rapids was connected to the web of violence and devastation created and maintained through drug trafficking.’’

The investigation was launched in spring, 2016 by the Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team. Police searched 19 locations as part of the probe, including storage facilities and homes in Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Grandville.

Raya pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to possess and deliver heroin, cocaine and marijuana. The offense is punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and up to life.

The California man is the first person to be sentenced in a criminal case that generated dozens of felony charges against defendants from several states. Raya appeared earlier this week before U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker in Grand Rapids. In addition to prison, the judge fined Raya $1,500 and ordered that he spend five years on supervised release once he gets out of prison.

“Raya was responsible for moving large amounts of heroin, fentanyl and cocaine across the country, both to Grand Rapids and to his own customers elsewhere,’’ Baker wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “These drugs are part of a crisis costing the country thousands of lives.’’

Raya and a co-defendant, Salvador Cervantes, left California on Aug. 30, 2017 with their semi-truck packed with food and narcotics. Once in Grand Rapids, they dropped off 22 pounds of cocaine and a little more than two pounds of heroin before continuing their journey towards Pennsylvania.

The pair were unaware they were under the watchful eye of police. The semi-truck was stopped Sept. 3 along Int. 96 in Ionia County; police recovered nearly 42 pounds of heroin. Investigators also found nearly $282,000 in a hidden trap compartment of the semi, court records show.

“Raya controlled this stream of delivery,’’ Baker wrote in court documents. “For this reason, Raya is not deserving of a minor role.

“Due to Raya’s repeated involvement transporting large amounts of narcotics, and his primary responsibility for arranging the supply to Pennsylvania, the government does not believe he is eligible for a mitigating role departure’’ in his sentence, Baker wrote.

Raya’s attorney described his client as a “courier’’ who assisted Cervantes in driving from California to Michigan.

Raya was recruited in 2017 by Cervantes to assist in driving Cervantes’ semi-truck with the drugs from California to Michigan. Drugs were mixed with legal cargo, court records show.

Raya, 31, lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his wife and their four children, defense attorney Donald W. Garthe wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “If he truly had his own drug-delivery business as alleged, it would have been evidenced by a much more opulent lifestyle.’’

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