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Contraband
06/02/2010

8 charged in multi-state drug and gun-trafficking ring

PANAMA CITY, Fla. - Eight men were charged in Panama City federal court on June 1 with conspiring to distribute large amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies.

Four of the defendants were also charged with federal firearms offenses for their attempts to possess and transport 50 fully automatic AK-47 machine guns.

The case was investigated by ICE, 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.

"ICE will continue to work with our state, local and other federal law enforcement partners to investigate this kind of criminal activity," said Sue McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations overseeing operations in Panama City.

The criminal complaint alleges that between April 2009 and May 28, 2010, Ramiro Gomez, 33; Julian Garcia-Penaloza, 27; Santiago Valdez-Gomez, 25; Pasqual Montor-Torres, 28; and Florencio Barrios-Hernandez, 26, all of Mexico; as well as Jose Barajas, 53; and Maria Cifuentes-Espinoza, 35, both of Texas; and an individual known as "El Puma" allegedly conspired to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. If convicted of conspiracy, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.

The complaint further alleges that Gomez and Garcia-Penaloza both conspired to possess 50 fully automatic AK-47 machine guns and that they received and facilitated the transportation of those machine guns in violation of U.S. export laws. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy to possess the machine guns and a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for violation of the export laws.

Gomez, Garcia-Penaloza, Valdez-Gomez, and Barrios-Hernandez were also charged with possession of unregistered firearms, namely 10 fully automatic AK-47 machine guns. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 10 years in prison on this charge.

The charges stem from a long-term investigation involving multiple trips by the defendants between Florida, Alabama, and Texas to transport cocaine, methamphetamine, and drug proceeds, as well as cash to pay for the machine guns.

A probable-cause and detention hearing in the case is scheduled for June 7 at 1:30 p.m. before Judge Bodiford in Panama City.

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