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Contraband
10/28/2010

4 sentenced in multi-national drug and gun trafficking ring

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - Martin Ramirez-Rodriguez, 27, Santiago Valdez-Gomez, 25, and Florencio Barrios-Hernandez, 26, all of Mexico, and Maria Cifuentes-Espinoza, 35, of Texas, were sentenced to federal prison Wednesday for their involvement in a multi-national drug and gun-trafficking operation, following a multi-agency investigation involving special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The sentences delivered by U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak of the Northern District of Florida were the result of a long-term investigation that revealed a conspiracy by the individuals to transport cocaine, methamphetamine, and drug proceeds between Florida, Alabama, and Texas. Members of the conspiracy also endeavored to obtain and smuggle to Mexico as many as 800 fully automatic AK-47 machine guns for use in the drug war between rival drug cartels fighting for control of profitable drug routes into the United States.

"These individuals were involved in a scheme to funnel AK-47 machine guns from Panama City to Mexico, fueling the violent activity associated with gangs and drugs that is taking place across the Southwest border," said Susan McCormick special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Tampa. "Stopping the flow of drugs, weapons and other contraband across our borders is a national security issue and a top priority for ICE and we will continue to work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to disrupt these kinds of activities."

Ramirez-Rodriguez was sentenced to 572 months in prison. He was charged with and convicted of conspiracy to export fully automatic AK-47 machine guns from the U.S. to Mexico, conspiracy to possess and transfer machine guns, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, and illegal reentry into the United States following deportation.

Valdez-Gomez was sentenced to 189 months in prison. He was charged with and convicted of possession of firearms by an illegal alien, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine, and illegal reentry into the United States following deportation.

Barrios-Hernandez was sentenced to 189 months in prison. He was charged with and convicted of possession of firearms by an illegal alien and conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine.

Cifuentes-Espinoza was sentenced to 46 month in prison. She was charged with and convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and methamphetamine.

"The potential for violence posed by this organization is hard to quantify. This prosecution prevented hundreds of fully automatic firearms from being placed in the hands of those willing to do anything for profit and has saved lives," said U.S. Attorney Pamela C. Marsh.

Two other defendants, Jose Barajas and Pascual Montor-Torres, will be sentenced before Judge Smoak at the U.S. Courthouse in Panama City on Nov. 10 at 9:45 and 10 a.m., respectively. One defendant, Ramiro Gomez-Gomez, remains a fugitive.

This case was investigated by ICE HSI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bay County Sheriff's Office, the Panama City Police Department, the Panama City Beach Police Department, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, the Houston County Sheriff's Office, and the Dothan Police Department.

It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gayle E. Littleton.