A Pennsylvania man was sentenced to prison for drug conspiracy and murder on November 18 after a prolonged investigation stemming from a routine traffic stop in Cortland County, New York, in 2019.
Upon making the traffic stop on a pickup truck, Cortland County deputies discovered a .380 caliber handgun, 100 rounds of ammunition and crystal meth. They immediately arrested the vehicle’s occupant, 38-year-old Kyle M. Leeper, thus ending a cross-country drug dealing scheme.
Investigators in the case determined that Leeper was responsible for an execution-style murder in the Mojave Desert in Barstow, California, after a drug deal gone bad, among other crimes.
A federal judge in Syracuse sentenced Leeper to 40 years in prison for distributing the drugs and for fatally shooting the man in California.
Cortland County Sheriff Mark E. Helms praised his deputies and the collaborative effort among the many law enforcement agencies involved in the case.
“I am extremely proud of both Sergeant Mike Winchell and Officer Peter Wright for turning what some would consider a routine traffic stop into a major multi-agency investigation,” Helms said. “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.”
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York, Leeper was trafficking crystal meth across the country with stops in Los Angeles, Indiana and New York when he was arrested.
Leeper collaborated with an inmate in a Montgomery County jail in Indiana in 2018, who provided him with contacts to meth suppliers.
In 2019, Leeper traveled to California with associate and co-defendant Ramon Nieves-Cotto to make a drug deal with a supplier. There, Leeper dealt with a middle man in a motel where he purchased 3 pounds of crystal meth for $5,000. After realizing he was short-changed with a less-than-agreed-upon amount of drugs, Leeper abducted the man and several others at gunpoint, demanding more drugs and money.
Leeper then drove to the Mojave Desert, where he bound the wrists and ankles of one of the men before shooting him eight times in the back execution style with the .380 caliber pistol. Leeper left the body there.
Weeks later, Leeper delivered meth in Cortland County and planned to return to Los Angeles to buy more. However, before he could do so, he was arrested by deputies on February 13, 2019, during a routine traffic stop. Leeper was charged this November with murder, gun possession and drug conspiracy.
“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 … Leeper will spend the next 40 years in a federal prison to pay for the violence and suffering he inflicted,” U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman said, commenting about the outcome of the case in a DOJ press release.
According to the release, the agencies involved in the case included the FBI, DEA, ATF, Cortland County (New York) Sheriff’s Office, Barstow (California) Police Department, San Bernadino (California) County Sheriff’s Department, Cortland County (New York) District Attorney’s Office, Montgomery County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department, Montgomery County (Indiana) District Attorney’s Office, the Pomona (California) Police Department and the El Monte (California) Police Department.