A Morrisville mother, who directed a major conspiracy to sell heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone throughout the Lamoille County region for more than three years, has been sentenced to nearly six years in federal prison.

Esperanza “Hope” Delarosa, 52, received a 69-month sentence for the drug conspiracy and will be on supervised release for four years once she gets out of prison, Judge Christina Reiss ruled in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Reiss allowed Delarosa to enroll in a special drug treatment program through the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Delarosa could get 12 months knocked off her sentence if she completes the program, said David Williams, one of her two defense lawyers.

Prosecutors have maintained she was not an addict and her drug business was only about greed.

Delarosa’s daughter, Susan Mateo, 28, who helped run the illegal drug business, was sentenced earlier to six months in prison and six months of home detention. Mateo also will be on three years of supervised release after her confinement ends, Reiss said.

An elaborate federal indictment charged Delarosa and Mateo with conspiring to distribute the three deadly drugs between October 2014 and Jan. 23, 2018.

Delarosa was facing nine felony charges, including two conspiracy counts, until she admitted her guilt. She pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy that covered drug dealing in Lamoille and Washington counties, including at least seven sales monitored by police between Sept. 25, 2017, and Jan. 11, 2018, the plea agreement said.

Reiss has also ordered the forfeiture of a Randolph Road home in Morrisville that Delarosa bought with drug money, and put the ownership in Mateo’s name. Prosecutors alleged Mateo was “an equity partner” in the drug business. She initially denied five felony charges, including the two conspiracy counts.

‘I want to go home’

Delarosa’s sentencing began last month, but she had a meltdown at the hearing. She began wailing and got louder each time as she repeatedly begged for God to pardon her. Reiss called for a recess and later ordered the hearing to resume in a month when U.S. Marshals reported Delarosa was in no condition to continue.

As at the first hearing, Delarosa said last Thursday she wanted to go home and was hoping to be freed by the court. She seemed to have a hard time understanding she was not getting out of prison.

“I want to go home,” Delarosa said, often mentioning her children and young grandchildren — many of them seated behind her in the courtroom.

Reiss explained that wasn’t going to happen because Delarosa faced a mandatory minimum of at least 60 months. The judge noted Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ophardt was asking for 135 months — more than 11 years — in prison.

The federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, recommended somewhere between 11 and 14 years in prison. 

“This was a pretty significant operation,” Ophardt said.

Williams, a veteran defense lawyer, told the judge the mandatory 60-month minimum sentence had been explained to Delarosa several times before the hearing, but she had a difficult time grasping it. Reiss questioned whether a mental evaluation was needed, but Williams said no.

Williams also told the court that at one point Ophardt reached a plea agreement for both mother and daughter. Delarosa would have served 60 months in prison and Mateo just three months. The Morrisville house would have been forfeited too, said Williams, who was assisted by his law partner, Brooks McArthur.

When the daughter, Mateo, insisted on retaining ownership of the single-story home, Ophardt’s plea bargain fell through, Williams said. “She hung her mother out to dry,” Williams said about Mateo.

Under questioning from Reiss, Delarosa said she was just wishing she could be freed.

“I am hearing hope versus thought,” Reiss said. 

Death threats recorded

The two sides debated whether Delarosa should get a stiffer sentence because of possible death threats an informant had reported.

The threats, which were recorded, were one reason Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy ordered Delarosa stay in jail until trial, because she was a danger to the community. Conroy repeatedly denied subsequent defense requests to release her, citing the recordings.

During one hearing shortly after the arrests in January 2018, Conroy noted, “In a statement that was recorded, the defendant expressed an intent or willingness to kill or harm witnesses.”

Delarosa maintained it didn’t matter if she was locked up, because somebody would come for the snitch, court records show.

Williams said last week the threats were not specific for the informant.

Ophardt disputed that, saying the threats were clear. “I will kill you. If the cops come, you’re dead,” he said.

Reiss, after hearing arguments Thursday, said she thought the comments were not direct threats and the court would not impose additional jail time.

Presentence investigation reports by the U.S. Probation Office indicate one of Delarosa’s customers stated she alone had bought $2 million worth of drugs, but the defense called into question the amount.

Investigators used a confidential informant to buy oxycodone and heroin from both Delarosa and Mateo. Lab tests showed that the heroin was laced with deadly fentanyl.

Reiss said several times Delarosa was lucky that she had not been linked to a fatal overdose.

“These are deadly drugs,” Reiss said.

The judge said she also was concerned that Delarosa had said she would not take a $10-an-hour job and opted to dish out drugs instead. Meanwhile, her daughter, Mateo, worked at Dollar Tree in Morrisville for two years and lived rent-free.

Delarosa’s sentence begins immediately. She will get credit for about 21 months spent in jail awaiting trial.

Mateo, who has been free on conditions, will begin her prison term Jan. 3. Reiss agreed to a defense request that Mateo be allowed to surrender that day at the federal prison in Danbury, Conn. That will permit Mateo to spend the Christmas holiday season with her family, including her 8 year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

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