ALBUQUERQUE – Trista Schlaefli, 33, of Colorado Springs, Colo., pled guilty Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Las Cruces to charges arising out of a Nov. 27, 2017 crime spree during which Schlaefli and her co-defendant allegedly fled from a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, carjacked a vehicle at gunpoint resulting in the death of a victim, and attempted to carjack two other vehicles.
U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge James C. Langenberg of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division, New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas and Chief Patrick Gallagher of the Las Cruces Police Department announced the guilty plea.
Schlaefli and her co-defendant Daniel Lowell, 35, of Henderson, Colo., were charged in a nine-count indictment, filed April 10, 2018, with high speed flight from an immigration checkpoint, carjacking, carjacking resulting in death, attempted carjacking, and possession of at least 15 unauthorized access devices.
The indictment also charges Lowell with brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, attempted carjacking, and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. It charges Schlaefli with aiding and abetting Lowell in brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, and with attempted carjacking. According to the indictment, Lowell and Schlaefli committed the crimes Nov. 27, 2017 in Dona Ana County.
The New Mexico State Police arrested Lowell and Schlaefli on state charges on Nov. 27, 2017, and the FBI arrested them on the federal indictment on April 25, 2018. The state charges were dismissed in May 2018, in favor of federal prosecution.
During today’s change of plea hearing, Schlaefli pled guilty to high speed flight from an immigration checkpoint, carjacking, carjacking resulting in death, aiding and abetting brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, attempted carjacking, and possession of unauthorized access devices. In her plea agreement, Schlaefli admitted that on Nov. 27, 2017, she and an accomplice fled from a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint in Dona Ana County at a high rate of speed in a vehicle they carjacked.
Schlaefli initially drove the carjacked vehicle as they continued their flight, and her accomplice took the wheel until the vehicle blew a tire. According to Schlaefli’s plea agreement, the accomplice brandished a firearm as he and Schlaefli carjacked another vehicle from a couple and their two minor children as they continued their flight from law enforcement authorities. Schlaefli and her accomplice continued their high speed flight as they were pursued by law enforcement authorities into Las Cruces, where they crashed into a motorcyclist, who died as the result of injuries sustained during the crash. After the crash, Schlaefli attempted to carjack another vehicle.
In her plea agreement, Schlaefli admitted after she was arrested, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on a stolen vehicle Schlaefli had been driving and a hotel room where she had been staying and seized 15 drivers’ licenses, nine social security cards, one military identification and 31 credit cards. Schlaefli acknowledged that the identification cards, social security cards and credit cards were stolen and she intended to use them for fraudulent purposes.
At sentencing, Schlaefli faces the following maximum statutory penalties:
- High-speed flight from an immigration checkpoint – five years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine;
- Carjacking – 15 years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine;
- Carjacking resulting in death – life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine;
- Attempted carjacking – 15 years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine;
- Possession of unauthorized access devices – ten years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine; and
- Aiding and abetting brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence –mandatory minimum of seven years and maximum of life imprisonment to be served consecutive to any other sentence imposed.
Lowell has entered a plea of not guilty to the charges against him and remains in custody pending trial, which currently is scheduled for January 2019. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the Las Cruces Office of the FBI, Las Cruces Police Department and New Mexico State Police with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Border Patrol, and 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marisa A. Ong and Aaron O. Jordan of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch Office are prosecuting the case.