A Nashville woman pleaded guilty to her involvement in an international drug distribution conspiracy, orchestrated from prison, that pumped a large volume of drugs into the Nashville area, according to a statement issued last week by federal prosecutors.
The defendant, Jennifer Montejo, 32, was charged in a criminal complaint on December 12, 2019, with possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and 400 grams or more of fentanyl, according to the statement by Don Cochran, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.
In addition to the conspiracy, Montejo pleaded guilty to two counts of possession with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl; possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug crime; and money laundering.
The plea agreement calls for a 25-year sentence.
The investigation is continuing; so far, 18 people have been charged with federal drug distribution and other offenses.
Montejo will be sentenced on March 26, 2021, and the other cases are pending disposition. Other defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Montejo was charged in December 2019 after being arrested at a Nashville bus station on Dec. 11 as she returned from California, Cochran said in 2019.
Montejo and others had been previously identified as targets in a drug trafficking investigation in the Nashville area and at a state prison, Cochran said in 2019. Montejo was arrested on Dec. 11, 2019, at a Nashville bus station as she was returning from California after purchasing a one-way airline ticket to Los Angeles days earlier. Approximately four kilograms of a substance believed to contain fentanyl and about one kilogram of a substance believed to be heroin were discovered in Montejo’s luggage, Cochran said.
When she was arrested in 2019, Montejo was on bond for state drug charges in Dickson County. That came from an incident in July 2019 where the Tennessee Highway Patrol stopped Montejo on Interstate 40 as she was traveling from California. Troopers allegedly found approximately three-fourths of a kilogram of pills containing fentanyl, about one kilogram of heroin and three firearms.
The alleged plot involved several co-conspirators, including the leader who orchestrated the operation from his cell at a state prison facility in Nashville, Cochran said. The scheme resulted in dozens of kilograms of illicit drugs and thousands of pills, including heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and marijuana shipped or brought into the mid-state.
The scheme was carried out by the use of contraband cell phones which were unlawfully smuggled into the prison, Cochran said. The conspirators used WhatsApp, an encrypted communication service, to allegedly talk about drugs, drug proceeds, firearms and violence. The imprisoned leader allegedly offered significant monetary incentives to others to apply for employment with state or privately run prisons to aid in the illegal smuggling of contraband into the prisons. Montejo applied for employment as a guard with the prison in June 2019.
The scheme involved the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds to Mexico and violence towards co-conspirators who failed at their mission, Cochran said. For example, on Nov. 3, 2019, a woman was found near a Nashville park whose hand had been severed because she lost $50,000 in drug proceeds which she was transporting by bus, the district attorney said.
Montejo and others allegedly carried firearms between Nashville and California and continued to distribute counterfeit pills, even after learning that people who ingested them ended up in hospital emergency rooms, Cochran said.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.