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6 men pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine in the Washington area

Ring claimed ties to Mexican drug cartel

WASHINGTON — Six men pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to sell large quantities of crystal methamphetamine in the Washington D.C. area following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

The most recent plea took place Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Alfonso Martinez-Cruz, 40, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Sentencing is set for Jan.18, 2012.

Five other defendants earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. They include: Alberto Garcia Calderon, 36, a leader of the ring; Alejandro Quintana Cardenas, 25; Sergio Garcia-Virelas, 25; Felipe Alvarado-Ponce, 37, and Jesus Bustos-Penaloza, 52.

All six defendants were indicted in December 2010, following their arrests at various locations in the Atlanta-area and Winston-Salem, N.C. All six defendants agreed to forfeit a money judgment for the amount of the proceeds of their conspiracy. The court issued orders for Martinez-Cruz, Garcia-Virelas, Alvarado-Ponce and Bustos-Penaloza together to forfeit a combined total $3.15 million as part of their sentence.

"In this instance, a drug trafficking organization was unsuccessful in establishing a new market in the Washington, D.C. area," said Special Agent in Charge Torres. "ICE HSI, along with its law enforcement partners, will continue to combat drug cartels by investigating and aggressively dismantling these organizations that have brought drugs and violence to our communities."

Authorities conducted numerous searches in Georgia and North Carolina on Dec. 10 and 11, 2010. They seized more than 50 pounds of methamphetamine, six pounds of marijuana, three firearms, and more than $35,000 in cash in these coordinated law enforcement activities. In addition, five pounds of methamphetamine, one kilogram of cocaine and about five pounds of marijuana were recovered in the weeks leading to the arrests.

According to MPD estimates, the street values of the seized drugs included more than $3.5 million worth of methamphetamine, $118,000 of cocaine and $49,500 of marijuana. The investigation uncovered evidence that the ring had or was claiming ties to "La Familia," a Mexican drug cartel that operates in that country and the United States. According to the government's evidence, the cartel is known to distribute large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and crystal methamphetamine. The defendants were working to create a distribution network and market for crystal methamphetamine in the Washington, D.C.-area.

"Crystal meth is an extremely addictive drug that devastates lives," said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. "With this prosecution, we were able to send six men to prison for their roles in seeking to funnel crystal meth from an Atlanta lab into the District of Columbia's neighborhoods. The success of this investigation and prosecution makes clear that law enforcement is united and determined to dismantle the networks that try to profit by selling poison. In this case, the Metropolitan Police Department and ICE HSI kept this ring from moving into the city."

"We are committed to eliminating criminal enterprises that peddle poison to the streets of Washington D.C.," said Cathy L. Lanier, chief of the MPD. "The issue of drugs and drug-related violence is not a local or regional matter. It's a national problem. While local law enforcement must continue its efforts in the area of drug prevention, joint investigations such as this which disrupt and dismantle drug cartels from top to bottom are a very effective tool. This case will have a positive impact on the Washington area; an immediate visible and tangible result will be evident. On behalf of our Narcotics and Special Investigations Division, to our federal partners, we extend our gratitude for their support, cooperation, collaboration in this investigation. MPD has such an important duty to the citizens of the District of Columbia."

One of the defendants – Calderon – admitted in his plea that he was the manager or supervisor of others in the ring. He and Cardenas were arrested last December in Winston-Salem. Martinez-Cruz, Garcia-Virelas, Alvarado-Ponce and Bustos-Penaloza were arrested in Atlanta.

Calderon pleaded guilty in September 2011, and is to be sentenced Dec. 5, 2011. Cardenas pleaded guilty in September 2011 and is to be sentenced Dec. 2, 2011. Bustos-Penaloza pleaded guilty earlier this month and is to be sentenced Jan. 9, 2012. The other two defendants already have been sentenced. Garcia-Virelas pleaded guilty in June 2011 and was sentenced earlier this month to an 11-year prison term. Alvarado-Ponce also pleaded guilty in June 2011 and was sentenced earlier this month to a 64-month prison term.

According to the government's evidence, Calderon and others in his organization kept methamphetamine in a home that was being used as a laboratory in the Atlanta-area. During a search of that home, authorities found at least 50 pounds of methamphetamine in various states, including crystal and liquid methamphetamine, along with two firearms. Another firearm was found in a search of an apartment in the Atlanta-area. About six pounds of marijuana were recovered in a search of an apartment in Winston-Salem.

This case was brought as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency team that conducts comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the nationwide program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation's drug supply.

Numerous agencies provided assistance during the investigation. In Georgia, they included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Atlanta; DEA Task Force Officers from the Fayette County Sheriff's Office; Alpharetta, Ga., Police, Fire and HAZMAT teams; the Georgia State Patrol; the Sandy Springs Police Department; and ICE HSI task force officers from the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office, the Cobb County Sheriff's Office, and Marietta and Conyers police departments. In North Carolina, agencies included the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office, Stokes County Sheriff's Office, and the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of License and Theft. The U.S. attorney's offices in the Northern District of Georgia and the Middle District of North Carolina also assisted in the investigation and court hearings.