A Fort Worth man who pleaded guilty in a $1 million drug bust was sentenced to 10 years probation Friday, sparking outrage among narcotics agents.
"That's incredible," said Robert Almonte, executive director of the Texas Narcotics Officers Association. "That's not even a slap on the wrist."
But Tarrant County District Judge George Gallagher said the sentence was a "balancing act."
Evidence indicated Luis Perez, 27, lived in a house where drugs were stashed and knew they were there, but his cousin owned and dealt the drugs, Gallagher said.
The charges stem from a raid in April 2005 in Haltom City.
An informant had told police that Perez's cousin, Raul Ramirez, was selling large amounts of drugs. Agents set up a sting and had the informant call Ramirez to buy some, court records said.
When Ramirez was arrested on his way to meet the informant, he admitted he stashed drugs in Perez' house, which was across the street, police reports said.
Officers searched Perez's house and found 11 kilos of cocaine and methamphetimine, worth an estimated $1 million, and $189,000 in cash, police said. Some of the drugs were hidden in a kitchen cabinet.
It was one of the biggest drug seizures in Fort Worth in recent years, police said.
"We consider that a major trafficker," Almonte said.
In a federal court, Ramirez was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Federal prosecutors did not accept Perez's case.
Perez, a father of four, has had a steady job working on a sanitation truck and has complied with his probation, the judge said.
"My first thought was that's a lot of dope," Gallagher said. "But Ramirez was the main guy. Then, you've got a guy (Perez) who has no priors of any kind, and for two years he was absolutely clean."
Court-ordered drug tests were all negative, and Ramirez wore an electronic ankle monitor and obeyed curfew, Gallagher said.
At sentencing, friends and family packed the courtroom, all prepared to testify in support of Perez, Gallagher said.
Prosecutors recommended a minimum 10-year sentence, but Gallagher said probation allows him to monitor Perez and give him an even harsher sentence if he gets in trouble again.
"That was a balancing act I did," the judge said. "I want to watch him for 10 years, and if he messes up, I can sentence him to life. I would rather have the hammer over his head if he messes up."
Fort Worth police investigated the case with the Tarrant County Narcotics Unit.
"We always hope for the punishment to meet the criminal act," said Lt. Paul Henderson. "This case is a little disappointing. But you win some and you lose some, and we move on."
Prosecutor Charlie Brandenberg said he is not critical of the judge's decision but sounded less than pleased.
"That's the judge's call," he said. "It is what it is."
Perez could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Martin Lenoir, did not return repeated phone calls.