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Change of plea accepted in exchange for future cooperation in drug case

Mar 16, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The former owner of Austin's Steakhouse in Riverton pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to deliver cocaine under a deal that requires him to provide information in other drug investigations.

Gerardo H. Rico-Holguin, 39, entered his plea in exchange for the dismissal of other charges, including delivery of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine and conspiracy to deliver marijuana.

All of his charges carry a combined maximum punishment of 80 years in prison and $95,000 in fines, but the plea deal signed Feb. 14 calls for a potential sentence of anywhere between probation and five years in prison.

His sentencing hearing was not immediately set.

Rico-Holguin was among the latest to plead guilty in the ongoing massive drug investigation working under the banner of "Operation Angry Sun."

His restaurant on North Federal Boulevard was the target of a search warrant as more than 70 law enforcement personnel swept through the county Dec. 2 following the issuance of 35 indictments in the case.

Authorities targeted Rico-Holguin's home on Riverview Road during a highly visible visit search Sept. 19.

Appearing with his defense attorney, Devon Petersen, Rico-Holguin entered his guilty plea in Lander's 9th District Court. His jury trial is set for April 9.

Judge Norman E. Young asked him to explain what made him guilty of conspiracy to deliver cocaine, which happened between Aug. 8 and Aug. 10.

"My ex-girlfriend ... came to me at my work of business and wanted me to get her some drugs," Rico-Holguin said, giving her name in court.

The ex-girlfriend "wanted to know if I had a connection or knew anybody that had cocaine," he said.

Rico-Holguin said he called someone to arrange a cocaine purchase.

"I made the phone call for her. He did answer my call, and I spoke to him," he said, adding that the other party said he or she had plans to go to Gillette to buy cocaine.

Rico-Holguin said the transaction never happened. When When Young asked if it was true that he never received the cocaine, he said, "That's correct."

"But you did make the phone call?" the judge asked.

"Correct," Rico-Holguin said.

"And you were attempting to buy --" Young began to ask.

"The cocaine," Rico-Holguin interjected. "(The supplier) said he could probably get some for us for $1,100 for an ounce."

Young accepted his guilty plea and determined that a factual basis exists for his admission. He ordered a pre-sentence investigation in the case.

The judge reviewed the terms of Rico-Holguin's plea agreement, noting that he must cooperate with state and federal authorities to testify against others.

The plea deal requires him to remain in Fremont County for two years so that he can be available for trials and for helping state and federal prosecutors and investigators.

Rico-Holguin must be "available to testify truthfully at any and all hearings or trials related to any co-defendants in this matter or any other trials or hearings to which he has knowledge," according to the agreement.

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