All quotes and facts in the following response are from Brendan I. Koerner’s “See No Evil” (Wired, April 2013).
The judge agreed with McCracken’s harsh assessment. He sentenced Anaya to 292 months in federal prison–more than 24 years–with no possibility of parole. Curtis Crow and Cesar Bonilla Montiel, the men at the top of the organization, received sentences half that length.
Alfred Anaya mades traps, i.e., secret compartments that are often–but not always–used to smuggle illict goods. He lived and worked as a stereo installer in California, and although he did not advertise his sideline, it was also not illegal (on the state or federal level) for him to do so: “Building a trap was illegal only if it was done with the ‘intent to store, conceal, smuggle, or transport a controlled substance” and “There is no federal law against building hidden compartments, even if they’re made with the sole intent of smuggling drugs.” Compare this to lawyers, who are allowed to represent criminals, sometimes even if they know that their client committed the crime, or to bankers, who can knowingly find loopholes (or financial “traps”) through which criminals can legally disburse their illicit gains. Before he was arrested, he had been–in my eyes–illegally wiretapped by the DEA because he’d been overheard talking to a drug-smuggling client of his who was already under surveillance (something that might’ve gotten Anaya killed if his clients thought he was a snitch), and before being convicted, the DEA had twice attempted to coerce him into becoming a willing informant.
Alfred Anaya was prosecuted in Kansas (“a state he had never set foot in”), was charged with the same crime (“drug trafficking”) as that of his clients–only the second time in history for this to occur, and the previous case had resulted in only five years of prison–, and had only anecdotal information presented against him . . . much of it by his former clients, who were themselves on trial and seeking to reduce their sentences. Despite being deep in debt, Anaya was considered guilty by association with the men who used his compartments to transport $800,000 at a time, and was used as an example by prosecutor Sheri McCracken, who argued that “He makes the drug world work…. I don’t feel bad at all today. In fact, this is a pleasure…. I hope he tells a friend, because we’re coming for them.”
The solution would be to ban illegal compartments (though considering that that hardly gets done with guns…) or to mandate that when building such traps, you must document (and perhaps notarize) that the client’s intended purpose for the trap is not an illegal one (in which case, the compartment is no longer “secret”). But despite not having a law to the contrary–even after this conviction, there’s still only tenuous precedent–Alfred Anaya can now only hope that his appeal at least points out the ridiculousness of a situation in which the glorified mechanic does more time than the criminal who used his merchandise. If not, it’s time to start going after those who sell guns–hell, those who manufacture them–on the grounds that they should know that some of them will be used to commit crimes (y’know, another factor in “making the drug world work”), and, as I mentioned before, the lawyers and bankers and pretty much anybody else who might come into contact with a shady operator. Clearly, it is no longer the role of law enforcement to find the criminals–it is your job, perhaps because it’s easier to catch you, the person who isn’t sneaking around in the night.
Here’s a reductio ad absurdum for you: arrest every law-abiding citizen. The criminals will no longer be able to operate without victims!