A Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty last week in connection to a Cortland County-Indiana-California drug trafficking conspiracy, according to a release from the United States Attorney Office’s Northern District of New York.
Kyle M. Leeper, 38, pleaded guilty on May 12 to committing murder during a drug 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, according to U.S. attorney Carla B. Freedman, and Janeen DiGuiseppi, special agent-in-charge (FBI’s Albany office).
According to the release, Leeper entered his guilty plea prior to his federal jury trial, which was scheduled for May 16 in Utica. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 14. Leeper could receive a sentence of between 25-to-40 years in federal prison, to be followed by a lifetime term of supervised release, and a fine of up to $10.5 million.
The release notes that as part of Leeper’s guilty plea, he admitted he was part of a conspiracy that trafficked methamphetamine from Indiana and Southern California to Cortland County, where Leeper distributed it.
In the fall of 2018, Crystal Stephens, 34 of Groton, who was incarcerated in Indiana on burglary charges, provided Leeper by telephone with contact information for John Rice, 57 (of Crawfordsville, Indiana, Los Angeles, California), an Indiana-based meth dealer. Leeper communicated with Rice by telephone and then traveled to and from Indiana twice in late 2018 and early 2019, where he obtained crystal meth and a .380 caliber pistol from Rice. Leeper distributed the meth in the Cortland area, the release states.
The release further notes that after Rice was arrested in early Jan. 2019, Leeper arranged to travel to the Los Angeles area to purchase more meth. From jail, Stephens provided Leeper with telephone numbers for possible meth sources in East Los Angeles. In January 2019, Leeper and an associate, Ramon Nieves-Cotto, 30 of DeRuyter, drove from Cortland to Los Angeles, where Leeper contacted one of these sources. The source sought assistance from Arlene Rodriguez, 38 of Montebello, California, who introduced Leeper to a middleman. On Jan. 17, 2019, the middleman arranged for Leeper to buy three pounds of crystal meth for $5,000.
However, after the methamphetamine was delivered, Leeper realized that he had been shortchanged on the quantity delivered. Leeper abducted the middleman and Rodriguez at gunpoint. Later that day, Nieves-Cotto purchased zip ties, which Leeper used to bind the middleman. On the night of Jan. 17, 2019, outside Barstow, California, Leeper shot the 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 meth he managed to obtain on the trip to California, the release states.
In Feb. 2019, Leeper, Nieves-Cotto, and Rodriguez returned to Los Angeles, where Leeper purchased an additional 6-to-8 pounds of meth and a 9mm pistol. Upon his return to Cortland, Leeper, assisted by Rodriguez, began to distribute the meth. On Feb. 19, 2019, deputies with 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 sheriff’s deputies found four pounds of high-purity methe, the loaded .380 caliber pistol Leeper had used to commit the murder and ammunition. The deputies arrested Leeper, who previously had been convicted of state and federal felony offenses in Pennsylvania, and Rodriguez.
Six co-defendants previously pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy with Leeper “and/or aiding and abetting the murder,” the report states. Each of the co-defendants are awaiting sentencing:
- Rice pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
- Nieves-Cotto pleaded 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.
- Stephens pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
- Rodriguez pleaded 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.
- Jose Pimentel, Jr., 31, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
- Edgar Arredondo, age 35, of Los Angeles, California, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. He also pled guilty to charges based on his possession in the Central District of California of a shotgun, ammunition, and 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.