A judge Monday sentenced a 49-year-old Greeley man to 120 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections for 16 drug charges related to his involvement in a large-scale and long-running drug trafficking organization.
Luke Braziel, 49, appeared in person Monday afternoon with defense attorney Stephanie Stout for a sentencing hearing before Weld Judge Julie Hoskins.
Braziel’s case dates back to 2019 when the Weld County Drug Task Force started an investigation into a major drug trafficking organization operating in Weld County. The investigation led to the arrest of multiple people.
Braziel — who has a criminal history relating to drugs dating back to 1998 — and other members of his organization distributed a total of 28 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and heroin into the county, according to Greeley police. The task force learned that Braziel distributed drugs from his residence in the 1800 block of 7th Avenue in Greeley.
Prosecutors from the Weld County District Attorney’s Office, Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Pirraglia and Deputy District Attorney Patrick Roche, used evidence from the investigation to convict Braziel on multiple drug felony charges. Hoskins found him guilty of 14 counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and two counts of distribution of a controlled substance.
“No one has been harder on me than myself,” Braziel said tearfully Monday at his sentencing hearing.
During the hearing, Stout said Braziel’s case “breaks her heart,” with her argument focusing on his substance abuse issues that began at the age of 12, while also highlighting a lack of resources and assistance in the country for those struggling with such issues.
While Stout placed a spotlight on Braziel’s addiction and background, Pirraglia’s argument centered around Braziel’s relationship with drugs being based on selling them to community members, rather than using them. The seriousness of Braziel’s offenses can be seen through the impact they had on the community and the ripple effect he caused by spreading poison throughout the county, according to Pirraglia.
“What we have is a massive drug problem in this country, and especially in this county,” Pirraglia said. “It’s everywhere, judge, and this is the exact person causing this problem.”
Pirraglia pointed out the major difference between someone who uses and someone who deals, and the clear distinction points to Braziel’s role as a dealer who profits off of victims with “no shame” about the business he was conducting. In this case, the prosecutors said testimony showed Braziel was dealing at least 14 pounds of meth in less than a month.
“Users typically get treatment, dealers get DOC,” Pirraglia said before asking the court to consider the amount of unknown secondary victims whose addictions were fed because of Braziel.
Although prosecutors never asked for a specific number or range in sentencing, they suggested a higher amount — Braziel faced an 8 to 342-year range — to provide a fair warning and deterrent.
Pirraglia also talked about issues with truth in sentencing, including that many individuals with similar convictions to Braziel rarely serve a third of their sentences. To show that Braziel has knowledge about this fact, prosecutors incorporated audio of a phone call he made from prison into the argument, where he says, “If they give me 20, I would only do 6.”
However, Stout argued these statements about sentencing made by Pirraglia were “untrue and ridiculous.” She said the maximum amount for inmates is serving 75-80% of their sentences, while the minimum is about 33%. Additionally, the court cannot base a ruling on what the Colorado Department of Corrections or parole will do, according to her argument.
Overall, Stout requested a 10-20 year range with an emphasis that the top person in the drug-trafficking organization only received 30 years in prison for his crimes after making a plea agreement. She indicated the range would recognize the seriousness, provide rehabilitation and promote fair sentencing.
“The court sees you as a person but I also have to look at the things you’ve done as a person,” Hoskins said in relation to Braziel’s criminal history of more than 20 years. Based on his history, she believed he was more likely to fall back into dealing drugs if released from prison, which is why she instated 120 years of time to avoid the threat of him selling drugs in the future.
Braziel has a disposition hearing 9:30 a.m. July 8 in Weld District Court.
When Hoskins asked if he would prefer a virtual or in-person” hearing, he responded, “It doesn’t matter, I will be locked up anyways. I will see you when I see you.”
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