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2 convicted, sentenced in international marijuana smuggling operation

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Gainesville man was sentenced Friday for attempting to smuggle several multi-thousand pound loads of marijuana from Mexico to Prince William County, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C.

Ricardo Avelar Valdez, 47, of Gainesville, was sentenced to 87 months in prison, followed by a term of three years of supervised release, for his role in a marijuana smuggling operation based in Northern Virginia. Valdez has also agreed to forfeit $2 million representing the proceeds of his drug trafficking activities as well as two vehicles and drug paraphernalia.

Valdez pleaded guilty May 9. Between December 2011 and September 2012, HSI special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers made three significant marijuana seizures at ports of entry in Texas. Each of these shipments was tied to this operation. The marijuana, which was concealed in frozen fruit pulp and furniture parts, was, in each case, being shipped within hidden compartments in commercial tractor trailers to business addresses located in Prince William County. During this investigation, law enforcement in Texas seized approximately 10,000 pounds of marijuana, all of which was being shipped by Valdez to Virginia.

On Aug. 16, Valdez’s co-defendant, Francisco Cirilio Vargas-Aquino, aka "Francisco C. Vargas," and "Miguel," 49, of Manassas, was sentenced to 87 months in prison, followed by four years of supervised release for his role in this drug trafficking operation.

This ongoing Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, dubbed "Operation Buena Vida," is being led by HSI Washington in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Fairfax County Police Department.