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Leader of drug trafficking organization sentenced

RALEIGH, N.C. – The leader of a North Carolina drug trafficking organization was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison Tuesday, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Jose Manuel Hernandez-Iturralde, 28, was sentenced by United States District Judge Malcolm J. Howard for his role in a drug trafficking organization that operated in North Carolina from 2000 through 2010.

"Our agents systematically identified the members of this criminal organization and successfully targeted them for arrest and prosecution," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "HSI remains committed to working with our local partners, in this case the Lee County Sheriff's Department, to dismantle the criminal organizations smuggling narcotics and committing associated crimes throughout North Carolina and the rest of the United States." Nicholson oversees HSI activities in Georgia and the Carolinas.

On Feb. 16, 2011, a federal grand jury returned a criminal indictment that charged Hernandez with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 846. On December 5, 2011, Hernandez pleaded guilty to that offense.

The investigation revealed that since 2000, Hernandez and other co-conspirators maintained several residences in Wake, Randolph and Guilford counties to store, process and distribute cocaine, as well as to count, package and stash the drug proceeds from the cocaine distribution. Since the beginning of the HSI investigation in 2009, approximately 40 members of this drug trafficking organization have been prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office in Raleigh and sentenced accordingly. All told, Hernandez and his drug trafficking organization were responsible for importing and distributing approximately 6,000 kilograms of cocaine in North Carolina.