AUGUSTA — A New York man with a prior record of drug trafficking was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to trafficking in crack cocaine and heroin in Gardiner last year.

Kevin Soto

Kevin J. Soto, 28, of Manhattan, New York, pleaded with Justice William Stokes to sentence him to less than the four-year mandatory minimum he was sentenced to Monday, saying he needs to be there for his 4-year-old son. He said when he’s released from jail he plans to go to North Carolina where he’ll be surrounded by family and work for a family-owned landscaping company, and where he’d be able to be involved in the life of his young son.

“I have a 4-year-old son, asking for his dad all the time,” Soto told Stokes, reading from a letter he wrote to the court. “He just started school and he needs me to be there.”

Stokes, while sympathetic, said he could not sentence Soto to anything less than Maine’s mandatory minimum. He said a judge can only sentence a convict to less than the state’s mandatory minimums if a finding is made that the mandatory minimum would create a substantial injustice, a finding Stokes said he could not make especially given Soto’s criminal record, which includes previous drug trafficking convictions in New York.

Soto, according to an affidavit written by Katelyn Nichols, a special agent with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, has felony convictions, all from New York state, for criminal sale of controlled substances in 2011 and 2016; and a felony conviction on a charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell in 2013.

Soto was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated trafficking in a scheduled drug after officers from Gardiner Police, the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, Maine State Police and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency searched an apartment at 20 Mount Vernon St. in Gardiner.

Police found a plastic bag of cocaine base, or crack, and what they believed to be heroin in the bedroom where Soto was staying, according to Nichols’s affidavit.

A female occupant of the apartment told police she knew Soto was selling cocaine base and heroin from the residence.

Katie Sibley, assistant attorney general, said in court Monday there were several occupants at the apartment at the time of the July 17, 2019, search, and drug ledgers, cellphones, scales, bags of cocaine and heroin and $2,215 in cash were found in Soto’s room.

The cash was seized by police and forfeited to the state.

As class A felonies, the two aggravated drug trafficking charges were punishable by up to 30 years, or as few as four years, in prison. Stokes said it was Soto’s prior convictions that made his latest crimes rise to the class A level.

Soto’s attorney, Richard Charest, said Soto thought a more reasonable sentence for him would have been two and a half or three years.

Sibley said the four years Soto was sentenced to was appropriate, given his past convictions.

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