SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Kyle M. Leeper, 38, of Palmyra, Pennsylvania, was sentenced today to 40 years in prison for murder committed during a drug trafficking conspiracy by conspiring to distribute 50 grams and possessing, with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and possession of a firearm and ammunition as a convicted felon, U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman, Janeen DiGuiseppi, acting special agent for the Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ( FBI) in Albany, Sheriff Mark E. Helms, Cortland County (New York) Sheriff’s Office, and Chief Andrew Espinoza Jr., Barstow (California) City Police Department.
As part of his earlier guilty plea, Leeper admitted that he was part of a conspiracy that sold methamphetamine from Indiana and Southern California to Cortland County, New York, where Leeper distributed it to local residents and drug dealers. In the fall of 2018, co-defendant Crystal Stephens of Groton, New York, who was being jailed on Indiana burglary charges, contacted Leeper by phone with contact information for co-defendant John Rice, an Indiana-based methamphetamine dealer. Leeper communicated with Rice by phone and then traveled to and from Indiana twice in late 2018 and early 2019, where he received crystal methamphetamine and a .380 caliber handgun from Rice. Leeper distributed this methamphetamine in the Cortland area.
After Rice was arrested in Indiana in early January 2019, Leeper arranged a trip to the Los Angeles area to buy more methamphetamine. From prison, Crystal Stephens provided Leeper with phone numbers for possible methamphetamine sources in East Los Angeles. In mid-January 2019, Leeper and an associate, co-defendant Ramon Nieves-Cotto, drove from Cortland to Los Angeles, where Leeper contacted one of those sources. The source sought help from co-defendant Arlene Rodriguez, who introduced Leeper to a middleman. On January 17, 2019, this middleman arranged for Leeper to purchase three pounds of crystal methamphetamine for $5,000 from co-defendant Jose Pimentel. But after the methamphetamine was delivered to a motel in El Monte, California, Leeper realized he had fallen short on the amount delivered. Leeper kidnapped the middleman and Arlene Rodriguez at gunpoint. Later that day, Nieves-Cotto bought cable ties, which Leeper used to tie up the middleman. On the night of January 17, 2019, in the desert of Barstow, California, Leeper shot the handcuffed middleman eight times with the .380 caliber handgun from behind, killing him. Leeper and Nieves-Cotto then drove to Cortland, along with Rodriguez, where Leeper distributed the methamphetamine he received on that trip to California.
In early February 2019, Leeper, Nieves-Cotto and Rodriguez returned to Los Angeles, where Leeper purchased another six to eight pounds of methamphetamine and a 9mm handgun from co-defendant Edgar Arredondo. Upon returning to Cortland, Leeper, assisted by Rodriguez, began distributing this methamphetamine. On February 19, 2019, officers from the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office stopped Leeper and Rodriguez as they were driving in Leeper’s pickup truck, which had an expired registration and a cracked windshield. Inside the truck, officers found four pounds of high-purity methamphetamine, the loaded .380 caliber handgun that Leeper used to commit the murder, and ammunition. They arrested Leeper, who had previously been convicted of federal and state felonies in Pennsylvania, and Rodriguez.
United States Attorney Carla Freedman said: “Kyle Leeper’s verdict today is justice for his cold-blooded murder of a man in the California desert as part of a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy. After kidnapping and tying up the victim, Leeper brutally shot him eight times in the back and then abandoned him in Barstow, California. Leeper also brought pounds of methamphetamine to Cortland from Los Angeles and Indiana until state and federal investigators worked together to stop him and his fellow conspirators. Leeper will spend the next 40 years in a federal prison to pay for the violence and suffering he inflicted.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Janeen DiGuiseppe said: “Today’s ruling demonstrates the success that can be achieved when federal, state and local governments pool resources to remove violent offenders from our communities. Mr. Leeper was so involved in the trafficking of dangerous drugs into Cortland County that he was willing to kill anyone who stood in his way. Thanks to strong cooperation between our law enforcement partners in New York and California, he will now be held accountable for his heinous actions. The FBI is grateful to our law enforcement partners, and we remain committed to working together to investigate and apprehend violent drug traffickers whose actions threaten the health and safety of our neighborhoods.”
Cortland County Sheriff Mark E. Helms said, “I am very proud of both Sgt. Mike Winchell and Officer Peter Wright for turning what some would consider a routine traffic stop into a major multi-agency investigation. In addition, I would like to thank all of the other investigators in my office and all other officials and agencies who worked together and were able to piece together this complex case that led to the successful indictment of Kyle Leeper and Arlene Rodriguez. This is truly a great example of local, state and federal agencies working together.”
Barstow, California Police Chief Andrew Espinoza, Jr. said, “Kyle Leeper committed a heinous crime in our city and today he was held accountable to the victim and his family. This investigation was complex and covered the whole country. I commend the cooperation of all law enforcement agencies involved and the federal prosecutors who handled this case. Through their diligence and hard work, justice was done to Kyle Leeper today.”
Six (6) other co-defendants previously pleaded guilty to participating in the drug trafficking conspiracy involving Kyle Leeper and/or aiding in the murder.
Ramon Nieves-Cotto, 30, of DeRuyter, New York, pleaded guilty to assisting murder during a drug conspiracy and a distribution and possession conspiracy with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. He was sentenced on October 7, 2022 to 156 months in federal prison and a four-year supervised prison term.
Crystal J. Stephens, 34, of Groton, New York, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it. She was sentenced on November 15, 2022 to 100 months in federal prison and a four-year supervised prison term.
Arlene N Rodriguez, 38, of Montebello, California, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in connection with a drug related human trafficking crime. She was sentenced to 94 months in prison on October 6, 2022, followed by a four-year supervised sentence.
Jose Pimentel Jr., 31, of Los Angeles, California, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and has intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2022.
Edgar Arredondo, 35, of Los Angeles, California, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. He also pleaded guilty to charges related to his possession of a shotgun ammunition and 50 grams or more of methamphetamine in the Central District of California. He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2022.
john rice, 57, of Crawfordsville, Indiana, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it. He is scheduled to be sentenced on January 12, 2023.
A defendant’s sentence will be determined by a judge based on the particular law that the defendant is alleged to have violated, US sentencing guidelines, and other factors.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Cortland County (New York) Sheriff’s Office, the Barstow (California) Police Department and the San Bernadino (California) County Sheriff with support from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the Cortland County (New York) District Attorney’s Office, the Montgomery County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department, the Montgomery County (Indiana) District Attorney’s Office. , the Pomona, California Police Department and the El Monte, California Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorneys Steven D. Clymer, Richard R. Southwick and Thomas R. Sutcliffe.