A Cal State Fullerton student nabbed in an undercover federal investigation of the illegal distribution of Ecstasy pills popular on college campuses and at raves hoped that a judge would send her to prison no longer than one year.
Julie Choi wanted U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney to consider her a "minimal participant" in a high volume, Little Saigon-based MDMA distribution network that extended from Westminster and Garden Grove into Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Santa Ana and San Diego until Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, using a confidential informant to make buys, swooped down in 2010.
Government agents did recognize that Choi's role was minor compared to others charged in the case, but still asked for a 70-month prison sentence, according to court records.
For example, she drove around the man believed to be the ringleader while he cut deals to sell what he claimed were potent "Puma"-brand, Ecstasy pills for $3 each, according to law enforcement reports reviewed by the Weekly.
A federal prosecutor believed that Choi's attempt to downplay her involvement for a lenient sentence was contradicted by surreptitious DEA telephone recordings that allegedly outlined her desire to be paid for finding buyers.
The MDMA ring, including Choi, had no clue that the DEA, while working with detectives from local police departments including in Fountain Valley, closely monitored their moves for months as they sold thousands of Ecstasy pills often at strip mall parking lots.
(If government reports are correct, members of this drug crew either couldn't count or cheated the buyers because in multiple, undercover DEA purchases, the dealers shortchanged them at least a dozen pills or, in one case, a couple hundred.)
This month inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, Carney split the baby by not granting the sentencing wishes of either Choi or the government.
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After rejecting the drug dealer's last-minute demand of an acquittal of all charges even though a jury found her guilty, the judge gave the defendant 37 months in federal prison and ordered U.S. marshals to take her immediately into custody.
Choi, who was born in 1980 and has attended Santa Ana College, is appealing her case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.