An accused fentanyl trafficker from Hernandez will plead guilty to federal drug and weapons charges as part of a plea deal with prosecutors—six years after authorities wrongfully charged him with murder, court records show.
Joseph Manuel Vigil, 32, will serve 10 years in federal prison for possessing and intending to distribute fentanyl, as well as possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, according to the plea agreement.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 13, 2023 in Albuquerque federal court.
DEA agents from Albuquerque said they found a trove of fentanyl pills, seven guns, and more than $51,000 in cash March 3 when they served a search warrant at Vigil’s home at Private Drive 1519 in Hernandez.
The agents found Vigil in his master bedroom, records show. They also encountered his girlfriend—the mother of his child—in the living room. She told them Vigil lives there with their family, according to the DEA.
Among the illegal items found in Vig\il’s bedroom closet, according to prosecutors: 269 grams of fentanyl pills in a prenatal vitamin bottle, 104 grams of fentanyl pills in an unmarked white bottle and five handguns stashed beside the pills.
Agents also found a bolt-action rifle with a Nikon scope under Vigil’s bed, a shotgun behind his dresser and ammunition for all the recovered guns, according to the DEA.
In his plea agreement, Vigil admitted he “possessed firearms to further my drug trafficking activities, to protect myself, and my fentanyl pills.”
He agreed to forfeit the guns to the government, along with the cash agents found bound with rubber bands in his closet, prosecutors said.
A total of $51,368 amassed by Vigil must be turned over, about $20,000 of which Vigil admits were drug proceeds, records show.
Vigil allegedly had a local supplier for his drugs: Before the DEA’s arrival at his home, he said he met with a person who sold him 1,139 grams of fentanyl pills for $30,000 in cash, prosecutors said.
Court records did not specify the number of pills recovered from Vigil’s house, but fentanyl pills usually contain between .02 and 5.1 milligrams of the powerful opioid, according to the DEA.
By that calculation, Vigil had enough fentanyl on hand to fill thousands of pills, the filings indicate.
All of Vigil’s crimes in the case took place in Rio Arriba County, prosecutors said. He was previously convicted of drug possession in Fort Worth, Texas in 2016.
That same year, prosecutors charged Vigil with murder in Rio Arriba County.
The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office at the time said Vigil and another man murdered Juanito Martinez, 23, who authorities had found shot to death in Chimayó in 2012.
According to attorney Ben Ortega, Vigil’s lawyer in both the fentanyl case and the homicide, the state’s key witness in the murder prosecution recanted: a fact prosecutors failed to disclose to the judge while letting Vigil sit in jail.
Vigil sued New Mexico State Police for wrongful arrest and imprisonment, leading to a $200,000 settlement in 2019.
A spokesperson for the First Judicial District declined comment Monday.
Ortega, discussing the fentanyl case, said his client has long battled drug addiction.
“He himself has struggled with opioids and with other drugs, and it’s been harming [him],” said Ortega. “He’s supporting his child and his child’s mother there at his house, and struggling with this addiction.”
“He’s looking for the opportunity to be clean and sober when he gets out.”
Vigil’s arrest in the latest instance of fentanyl pills being trafficked in large numbers across the Española Valley.
Since 2020, drug dealers have flooded parts of New Mexico with the powerful pills and sold them mostly under false pretenses, with buyers believing they are purchasing real prescription pain drugs.
Most fentanyl pills are made by two Mexican drug cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, and crafted to look identical to drugs like OxyContin, Percocet, and Xanax, according to the DEA.
Both cartels use clandestine laboratories, industrial-sized tablet presses and sophisticated processing methods to turn fentanyl precursor chemicals—typically sourced from China—into saleable product.
Just two milligrams of fentanyl, which is equal to 10 to 15 grains of table salt, is considered a lethal dose, the DEA estimates. Depending on purity levels, the drug can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
Six out of every 10 fentanyl pills analyzed by DEA laboratories so far in 2022 contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl, an agency analysis found.
Last year, the number was four out of every 10.
“More than half of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills being trafficked in communities across the country now contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in her announcement of the drug analysis.
“These pills are being mass-produced by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel in Mexico. Never take a pill that wasn’t prescribed directly to you. Never take a pill from a friend. Never take a pill bought on social media. Just one pill is dangerous and one pill can kill.”
According to the CDC, 107,622 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, with 66 percent of those deaths related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.