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2 arrested in alleged marijuana smuggling operation

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Following an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), two men have been arrested for their alleged roles in a marijuana smuggling operation based in Northern Virginia that has attempted to smuggle several thousand-pound-loads of marijuana from Mexico to Prince William County, Va.

Francisco Cirilio Vargas-Aquino, aka "Francisco C. Vargas," and "Miguel," 48, of Manassas, Va., and Ricardo Avelar Valdez, 47, of Gainesville, Va., are charged with conspiring to import 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana into the United States and face a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison if convicted.

"Special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted enforcement operations yesterday at two residences and at two businesses in Northern Virginia," said HSI Washington, D.C., Special Agent in Charge John P. Torres. "The enforcement operations are part of an ongoing investigation related to drug smuggling from Mexico to Northern Virginia. In coordination with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, HSI will utilize its resources to dismantle international narcotics trafficking organizations who supply dangerous drugs to our communities."

"These two men are accused of bringing tractor trailers full of marijuana – with a street value of tens of millions of dollars – across the Mexican border destined for Northern Virginia," said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride. "This case represents the goal of every Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force operation – identify major drug trafficking organizations and then disrupt and ultimately dismantle their networks."

According to court records, in the past year and a half, HSI special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have made three significant marijuana seizures at ports of entry in Texas which have been allegedly tied to this operation. The marijuana, concealed in frozen fruit pulp and furniture parts, was, in each case, being shipped within commercial tractor trailers to business addresses in Prince William County. During this investigation, law enforcement in Texas has allegedly seized approximately 10,000 pounds of marijuana, all of which was being shipped to the Eastern District of Virginia.

This ongoing Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, dubbed "Operation Buena Vida," is being led by HSI's Washington D.C. Field Office, in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Fairfax County Police Department.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary K. Daly and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Eriksen.