At the end of a trial lasting four days, two men who used the Pennsylvania Turnpike to traffic heroin were sentenced to spend a combined 11 to 22 years in state prison.
38-year-old Santos Castro-Mota and 52-year-old Nelson Saldana were traveling together in Bensalem Township on January 7, 2017 when police pulled over their Ford Econoline van with an expired registration.
The driver, Castro-Mota, of Brooklyn, NY, was found to have $540 in cash in his possession. The passenger, Saldana, of Englewood, NJ, had $2,800 in cash and a bag at his feet.
The bag contained 78 grams of heroin, fentanyl and furanyl fentanyl, or enough to fill 2,496 individual bags according to Deputy District Attorney Thomas Gannon.
The attorneys for Castro-Mota and Saldana each attempted to paint their defendants as innocent men being taken advantage of by the other.
“He’s not someone who is a career criminal; he is a house painter,” Saldana’s attorney Noa Laver said. She also stated he had cooperated with police throughout the entire process.
Saldana’s credibility as a cooperative suspect falls flat when faced with the fact he fled prior to the original trial date in September of last year. Saldana is still loose and his location is unknown.
Keith Williams, Castro-Mota’s attorney, referred to his client as “just the patsy driver who gets lost driving home.”
“Who’s holding the money? Who’s holding the drugs? It’s Mr. Saldana,” Williams stated.
Despite neither of the criminals having a prior conviction, Judge Diane E. Gibbons doubted their naivety.
“Nobody wakes up one day and has instant access to 78 grams of heroin,” the judge said.
Saldana was convicted in absentia and sentenced to serve six to 12 years in state prison with an additional five years of consecutive probation for conspiracy. Judge Gibbons sentenced Castro-Mota to five to 10 years with five consecutive years of probation.