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09/12/2013

Leader of Seattle-area drug and weapons trafficking ring with ties to Mexican cartel sentenced

SEATTLE — An Everett man who, along with his brother, oversaw a drug and weapons trafficking ring with ties to a violent Mexican cartel was sentenced Friday to 20 years in federal prison for his crimes.

Victor Berrelleza-Verduzco, 24, pleaded guilty in April to multiple conspiracy counts related to distribution of controlled substances, money laundering, robbery and possession of firearms. According to court records, the ring smuggled methamphetamine and heroin from Mexico to the U.S. and made efforts to smuggle guns back to Mexico. Berrelleza-Verduzco and his brother, Cristian, were the leaders of a ring that prosecutors say was tied to the violent Beltran-Leyva Mexican drug cartel. The brothers and their father were captured on court authorized wire-taps discussing their meetings with Beltran-Leyva cartel leaders.

"This case shows how much our community is impacted by the crime and violence spread by international drug cartels," said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. "I congratulate the dedicated agents and officers who not only intercepted the weapons destined for the cartel leaders, but also moved in to stop drug-related violence being planned in our region."

The Berrelleza-Verduzco operation was dismantled last year through an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation designated "Operation Black ICE" led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Snohomish Police Department. Timely intervention by law enforcement stopped one home invasion robbery. Court documents say Victor Berrelleza-Verduzco's ring was involved not only in gun and drug trafficking, but in efforts to use violence to collect drug debts or rip-off rival drug trafficking organizations. 

"This sentence illustrates that violent drug smugglers will ultimately pay a high price for their crimes," said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. "These illegal drugs destroy lives and ruin our communities, and illegal weapons smuggled to Mexico add to the cartels' reign of violence."

Victor Berrelleza-Verduzco was arrested at a Utah stash house in April 2012 with more than two pounds of heroin.

Operation Black ICE resulted in 34 indictments, and the seizure of more than 20 pounds of heroin, more than 30 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly $200,000 and 31 firearms – including 10 assault weapons.

The investigation was assisted by OCDETF member agencies, including the Seattle, Lake Stevens, Everett, Monroe and Marysville police departments; the Eastside Narcotics Task Force; the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force; the Skagit County Inter-local Drug Enforcement Unit; the Snohomish County Sheriff's Department; the Washington State Patrol; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Offices of Field Operations and Border Patrol. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.