BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A veterinarian whose role in a drug-smuggling ring involved sewing packets of liquid heroin into the stomachs of puppies was sentenced in New York on Thursday to six years in federal prison.
“I know I cannot justify my actions because I’ve made mistakes, and that’s why I’m apologizing,” said Andres Lopez Elorez, 39, who pleaded guilty in September.
Clad in green prison scrubs, the Colombian national quietly asked U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. for mercy, insisting that the scheme was orchestrated by an unnamed mentor from his veterinary training.
“Life has determined it should be me answering [for these actions] and not him,” said Elorez, who addressed the court this morning through an interpreter.
Elorez, who was charged with two counts of conspiracy to import a controlled substance into the United States between September 2004 and January 2005, did not appear in U.S. court until May of this year.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicia Washington explained that the defendant had fled to Spain after the crime using Venezuelan papers.
Elorez’s attorney Mitchell Dinnerstein said Elorez had built a life in Spain, where he married and had a son. He also has a daughter from a previous relationship.
Spanish authorities arrested Elorez in June 2015 and he was finally extradited this past April.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicia Washington said Elorez procured a farm in Colombia to perform surgeries on the dogs, and a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York says he also helped raise the dogs there.
“The defendant … betrayed those veterinary skills and he used those skills for harm,” Washington told the judge.
Authorities searched the farm in January 2005, seizing 17 bags of liquid heroin weighing about 6.5 lbs. Ten of the bags were removed from puppies, and three of the puppies died from a virus after the procedures.
In court Thursday, Elorez had explained the crime as “an accident, a dark chapter” in his life, and that he had already paid for his mistakes with his time in prison.
Judge Johnson sentenced Elorez to 72 months and recommended he get credit for time served. Between prisons in Spain and the U.S., Elorez has already spent about three and a half years in prison, meaning he would only have two and a half years remaining.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Richard Donoghue leaned on a pun to announce Thursday’s sentence.
“Every dog has its day, and with today’s sentence, Elorez has been held responsible for his reprehensible use of his veterinary skills to conceal heroin inside puppies as part of a scheme to import dangerous narcotics into the United States,” Donoghue said in a statement.
According to another press release from the office, at least two of the surviving dogs became law enforcement companions. A beagle named Donna was taken in by a Colombian national police officer and his family. Heroina, an aptly named Rottweiler, was trained by the same police force to be a drug-detection dog.
Judge Johnson said he will recommend to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that Elorez be deported to Spain, instead of Colombia, when his sentence is up, though that decision is up to immigration authorities.
Mitchell had attempted to have the courtroom sealed for sentencing, saying discussion of the unnamed fellow schemer could put Elorez in danger, but Johnson denied the motion.