Vidal Sandoval

Former deputy Vidal Sandoval of the Colfax County Sheriff’s Department kneels next to the 238 pounds of marijuana he found in the back of a Michigan pick up truck during a routine traffic stop in 2007.

A U.S. District Judge in Albuquerque sentenced former Colfax County Sheriff’s Deputy Vidal Sandoval to seven years in prison for drug trafficking and theft in New Mexico while in uniform, wearing a badge and driving a patrol car.

Sandoval first plead guilty in 2016 to one count of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine and two counts of theft of government property, which was related to FBI funds used in an undercover investigation.

Sandoval hid $4,200 in cash in the tailpipe of his truck, stole more than $13,000 and confiscated marijuana from two men, and accepted $10,000 to escort a load of cocaine through Colfax County without interference, prosecutors said.

According to the Associated Press, the 50-year-old Sandoval told Senior U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera at his sentencing hearing on Thursday, Feb. 20, that he was tempted by the money and had disgraced his law enforcement agency, the public and his family,

“The idea that someone entrusted with a public duty to protect, serve and thwart violators of the law, that someone who is a police officer could commit these crimes was just shameful. It was also shocking,” Herrera said. “People who become law enforcement officers choose to protect the public. You became one of the people law enforcement needed to protect the public against.”

Sandoval was a candidate for sheriff in 2014, worked at the Colfax County Detention Center in 2003, was a Raton and Clayton Police Department officer and served in the Air Force from 1988 to 1992.

Sandoval made several headlines in The Chronicle-News while a deputy sheriff. In one incident in 2007, Sandoval stopped a speeding vehicle that was carrying $48,150 by a suspected drug mule. A second incident in 2007 found Sandoval stopping a pickup truck that was carrying 238 pounds of marijuana, estimated then to be worth $142,800.

The investigation into Sandoval began in summer 2014, after two men reported to New Mexico State Police that a law enforcement officer allegedly seized marijuana bought in Colorado dispensaries and cash from them during a June 25, 2014 traffic stop without giving them a receipt for the marijuana or money.

From Dec. 14, 2014 through Feb. 28, 2015, the FBI and NMSP deployed undercover agents into areas of Colfax County where Sandoval was known to patrol. During that time, affidavits allege that Sandoval conducted traffic stops on the undercover agents’ vehicles on three occasions during which he offered to escort the undercover agents through Colfax County with drugs and currency in exchange for a portion of their drug profits.

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