December 4, 2022

Pennsylvania Man Sentenced for Drug Conspiracy and Murder

Kyle Leeper is Sentenced to 40 Years in Federal Prison for Murder of Bound Victim as Part of a Cortland-Indiana-Los Angeles Methamphetamine Conspiracy

SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Kyle M. Leeper, age 38, of Palmyra, Pennsylvania, was sentenced  today to serve 40 years in federal prison for a murder committed during a drug trafficking 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, announced United States Attorney Carla B. Freedman, Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Sheriff Mark E. Helms, Cortland County (New York) Sheriff’s Office, and Chief Andrew Espinoza Jr., City of Barstow  (California) Police Department.

As part of his previous guilty plea, Leeper admitted he was part of a conspiracy that trafficked 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 incarcerated in Indiana on burglary charges, contacted Leeper by telephone with contact information for co-defendant John Rice, an Indiana-based methamphetamine dealer. Leeper communicated with Rice by telephone and then travelled to and from Indiana twice in late 2018 and early 2019, where he obtained crystal methamphetamine and a .380 caliber pistol from Rice.  Leeper distributed this methamphetamine in the Cortland area.

After Rice was arrested in Indiana in early January 2019, Leeper arranged to travel to the Los Angeles area to purchase more methamphetamine. From jail Crystal Stephens provided Leeper with telephone 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 these sources.  The source sought assistance from co-defendant Arlene Rodriguez, who introduced Leeper to a middleman.  On January 17, 2019, this middleman arranged for Leeper to buy three pounds of crystal methamphetamine for $5,000 from co-defendant Jose Pimentel.  But after the methamphetamine was delivered to a motels/" 1376 target="_blank">motel in El Monte, California, Leeper realized that he had been shortchanged on the quantity delivered.  Leeper abducted the middleman and Arlene Rodriguez at gunpoint.  Later that day, Nieves-Cotto purchased zip ties, which Leeper used to bind the middleman.  On the night of January 17, 2019, in the desert in Barstow, California, Leeper shot the bound 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 methamphetamine he obtained on this trip to California.

In early February 2019, Leeper, Nieves-Cotto, and Rodriguez returned to Los Angeles, where Leeper purchased an additional six to eight pounds of methamphetamine and a 9 mm pistol from co-defendant Edgar Arredondo.  Upon his return to Cortland, Leeper, assisted by Rodriguez, began to distribute this methamphetamine.  On February 19, 2019, officers from 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 officers found four pounds of high-purity methamphetamine, the loaded .380 caliber pistol Leeper had used to commit the murder, and ammunition.  They arrested Leeper, who previously had been convicted of state and federal felony offenses in Pennsylvania, and Rodriguez.

United States Attorney Carla Freedman said, “Kyle Leeper’s sentence today is justice for his cold-blooded killing of a man in the California desert as part of a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy. After kidnapping and binding the victim, Leeper brutally shot him eight times in the back and then left 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 co-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 sentence is indicative of the success that can be attained when federal, state, and local agencies combine resources to remove violent offenders from our communities. Mr. Leeper was so committed to trafficking dangerous drugs into Cortland County he was willing to kill anyone who stood in his way. Thanks to the strong collaboration between our law enforcement partners in New York and California, he is now being held accountable for his despicable actions. The FBI is grateful to our law enforcement partners and we remain dedicated 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 extremely 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.  Additionally, I would like to thank all the other investigators from my office, as well as all the other officers and agencies that worked together and were able to put together this complex case resulting in the successful prosecution of Kyle Leeper and Arlene Rodriguez.  This truly is a great example of local, state, and federal agencies working together.” 

Barstow, California Chief of Police 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 spanned across the country. I commend the collaborative effort of all the law enforcement agencies involved and for the federal prosecutors who handled this case. It was through their diligence and hard work that Kyle Leeper received justice today.” 

Six (6) other co-defendants previously pled guilty to participating in the drug trafficking conspiracy with Kyle Leeper, and/or aiding and abetting the murder.

Ramon Nieves-Cotto, 30, of DeRuyter, New York, pled 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. He was sentenced on October 7, 2022, to serve 156 months in federal prison, and a four-year term of supervised release.

Crystal J. Stephens, 34, of Groton, New York, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine. She was sentenced on November 15, 2022, to serve 100 months in federal prison, and a four-year term of supervised release.

Arlene N.  Rodriguez, 38, of Montebello, California, pled 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.  She was sentenced on October 6, 2022, to serve 94 months in prison, to be followed by four- year term of supervised release.

Jose Pimentel, Jr., 31, of Los Angeles, California, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute, and posses with 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, pled 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.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2022.

John Rice, 57, of Crawfordsville, Indiana, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on January 12, 2023.

A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, and other factors.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Cortland County (New York) Sheriff’s Office, the Barstow (California) Police Department, and the San Bernadino (California) County Sheriff’s Department, with assistance from the U.S. 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 U.S. Attorneys Steven D. Clymer, Richard R. Southwick, and Thomas R. Sutcliffe.

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