Former eatery manager sentenced gets nine days in drug case

Judge taken aback by leniency of plea deal; evidence issues cited

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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The former manager of El Rancho Viejo was sentenced Thursday to nine days in jail, with credit for nine days served, for conspiracy to deal methamphetamine out of the Vancouver restaurant.

Ramon Lopez-Guitron, 45, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver 4 ounces of methamphetamine on Oct. 28, 2009, in exchange for fewer charges and a reduced sentence.

Lopez-Guitron was initially charged in November 2011 with four counts of delivery of a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to commit delivery of a controlled substance. Based on the reduced charges, Lopez-Guitron still faced up to 365 days of confinement.

Clark County Superior Court Judge Scott Collier appeared taken aback by the leniency of the plea bargain, reached between Lopez-Guitron's attorney, Maggie Smith Evansen, and county prosecutors.

"On the face of this, for this charge, it seems an awfully light sentence," Collier said. He asked whether there were problems with the prosecution's evidence. After the attorneys affirmed that there were, he approved the nine-day sentence.

Deputy Prosecutor Randy St. Clair explained later that the case was a joint federal and state investigation, and prosecutors were unaware that some evidence collected by federal agents wouldn't be admissible.

A visibly relieved Lopez-Guitron embraced his attorney and his Spanish language interpreter after the hearing.

Lopez-Guitron was accused of serving methamphetamine, in addition to standard Mexican fare, at the restaurant at 6321 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. for at least two years.

Lopez-Guitron sold meth on at least four occasions between 2009 and 2011 to three undercover informants, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said in charging papers that the investigation revealed "the offender to have occupied a high position in the drug-distribution hierarchy."

Now shuttered, the El Rancho Viejo building became another target of crime on March 13.

Firefighters responded to the building after a report of smoke billowing out of a window. They found a transient man who allegedly was trying to strip metal wiring from a back corner of the building and called Vancouver police.

Police arrested Douglas Freeman, 51, at the scene on an outstanding warrant.

Apparently, someone had used paper as a starter to try to burn the wiring and other metal out of the building, investigators said. The metal can be a temptation to thieves, who then sell it for money.

The building has been empty for several months.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.