KANKAKEE — A 19-year-old woman who has been in jail for more than a year on drug charges is being sent to prison. The judge expressed hope she could turn her life around.
Yisel Guadalupe Perez Varela, who was in jail because she couldn’t make bail, appeared in Kankakee County Court on Tuesday.
As part of a plea agreement, Varela pleaded guilty to a Class X felony of possessing methamphetamine. She was arrested and jailed in July 2018. This was her first brush with the law.
After she was arrested, Varela’s then-boyfriend took the blame for the crime on social media, saying Varela was innocent. He has not been charged, although text messages indicate he was involved in the drug shipment in question. Prosecutors say they have not found enough evidence to indicate he committed the crime.
On July 19, 2018, Varela was charged after police discovered that she opened a package that contained two pounds of crystal methamphetamine and seven pounds of marijuana, according to court records.
In text messages, Varela’s boyfriend informed her that a package was coming to her grandparents’ house. Their text messages were vague, with her boyfriend saying there would be a wrapped gift inside. It was unclear from court records whether Varela saw the drugs when she opened the outer package that was delivered to the house.
In court documents, Varela, through her attorney, indicated she did not know that drugs were inside the package. But on Tuesday, Varela told Circuit Judge Clark Erickson she knew the shipment was coming and that she knew drugs were inside the package.
In court Tuesday, Varela, a 2018 Kankakee High School graduate, also acknowledged another person was involved and that she provided that person’s name to prosecutors.
Prosecutors estimated the drugs were worth well more than $100,000.
Wearing glasses and a jail jumpsuit, Varela spoke in a low tone, with no emotion. She arrived in shackles, but the judge ordered them removed. In the gallery, her sister and a friend wept during the hearing. Overcome by emotion, her sister walked out a couple times.
Varela was given credit for the time she has served in jail and is expected to spend about a year and three months in prison, if she behaves well. She will be 21 when she is released, Erickson said.
The judge called Varela’s crime “a huge mistake in judgment.”
“You are very young. You have your entire life ahead of you,” Erickson said. “I’ve seen people in your situation who have been able to come back. I’ve seen them attend college and graduate school. It’s a harsh lesson to learn, but it’s a serious crime.”
The judge said her sentence could have been much more severe.
Later Tuesday, Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe wrote about Varela’s situation in a rare Facebook post about a specific case.
Rowe said his office has been unable to establish probable cause to indict Varela’s ex-boyfriend, but the investigation continues.
“It goes without saying that we will charge him if able,” he said.
He said Varela now finds herself headed to prison instead of college because of her crime.
“Varela has no criminal background, but choices have consequences. When Ms. Varela chose to engage in the illegal drug trade, she voluntarily subjected herself to severe consequences, including prison. Meth is no joke, and we don’t want it trafficked into our community,” Rowe said.
One woman commented on Facebook that she wished there was a better option than prison for Varela, suggesting rehabilitation.
Rowe responded that his office found no evidence Varela suffered from any drug addiction.
“It was purely possession of a large quantity for purposes of distribution,” he said. “In those instances where addiction is the culprit, drug court is regularly made available.”
Varela was represented by attorney Martin Quintana.