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South Texas jury convicts 3 in 'Operation El Patron' which involved smuggling nearly 14 tons of cocaine into the US

LAREDO, Texas — Three drug and money laundering co-conspirators were found guilty of charges resulting from a long-term Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, announced Wednesday.

The jury returned its verdicts July 30 following a seven-day trial and more than five hours of deliberation.

The charges and resulting convictions stemmed from an OCDETF operation dubbed "Operation El Patron" involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Enrique Mendez, of Laredo, Carlos Javier Flores Sr. and his son Carlos Javier Flores Jr., both of Zapata, Texas, engaged in a conspiracy to distribute bulk quantities of cocaine from Texas to Georgia. This conspiracy also included returning drug profits to Laredo, which were then smuggled into Mexico.

During the investigation that led the convictions, agents seized more than $7.5 million in drug proceeds and more than 450 kilograms (992 pounds) of cocaine. Agents also seized a drug ledger that attributes the movement/distribution of about 12,500 kilograms (27,558 pounds, or nearly 14 tons) of cocaine and $41.9 million in drug proceeds by these and other co-conspirators.

The trial began July 22 and finished Tuesday and included more than 20 government witnesses. Mendez was found guilty of drug conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and four substantive counts of laundering U.S. currency in amounts ranging from $200,468 to $999,465. Flores Sr. and Jr. were both found guilty of drug conspiracy; Flores Sr. was also found guilty of a substantive count of possessing a controlled substance in excess of five kilograms of cocaine. Mendez and Flores Sr., who each have prior felony drug convictions, are facing a mandatory minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life imprisonment without parole, as well as a $20 million fine. Flores Jr. is facing a mandatory minimum punishment of 10 years up to life, as well as a $10 million fine.

To date, 25 other co-conspirators have been convicted and sentenced as part of this investigation. Seven other co-conspirators identified in this investigation are scheduled for sentencing later this year.

Agencies that assisted in the arrests and other aspects of the investigation included the Webb County District Attorney's Office, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Border Patrol, Webb County Sheriff's Office, Laredo Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Graciela Rodriguez Lindberg and Sanjeev Bhasker, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.