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Alleged Mexican drug kingpin extradited to U.S. to face drug and money laundering charges

NEW YORK - A Mexican national believed to be one of the leaders of the "Los Gueros" international drug organization appeared in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., Monday to face drug trafficking charges, following an investigation by federal law enforcement agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Esteban Rodriguez-Olivera, 47, was extradited from Mexico to the United States on March 11, 2011. He was arrested in Mexico on a provisional warrant issued from the Eastern District of New York. He also faces federal criminal charges in the District of Columbia.

According to a superseding indictment returned on March 21, 2008, and an unsealing application filed in 2007, the U.S. government designated the defendant and his brother Luis Rodriguez-Olivera "drug kingpins," adding them to the list of the world's most significant narcotics traffickers and money launderers. "Los Gueros" is part of the Sinaloa Cartel and is believed to be responsible for shipping more than 100 tons of cocaine into the United States between 1996 and 2008.

"As alleged in the indictment and other court filings, the defendant is not only responsible for importing tons upon tons of cocaine destined for New York City, but he made millions of dollars in profit from this illegal drug activity," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of HSI in New York. "Dismantling this type of criminal enterprise and stemming the flow of drugs into the United States remains a top priority for HSI and our federal partners."

The Los Gueros' supply route originated in Mexico, stretched into Texas, and branched off to various points within the United States, including the New York metropolitan area. The organization received multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia along the Gulf coast of Mexico, and transported drug shipments into the United States through Laredo and McAllen, Texas.

Court documents reveal the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that between 2004 and 2006, the organization was responsible for shipping truckloads containing over 2,000 kilograms of cocaine to New York alone. As part of the investigation, in October 2004, HSI agents seized approximately 156 kilograms of cocaine hidden in one of the organization's tractor-trailers and in 2005, HSI agents seized approximately $2.1 million in drug proceeds bound for the organization in Mexico.

As detailed in the government's detention letter, to minimize the chance of his detection and arrest, Rodriguez-Olivera frequently relied on his associates to communicate with other coconspirators by telephone and rarely spoke on the telephone himself. He also avoided being photographed.

However, during the course of the investigation, in one instance when Rodriguez-Olivera spoke by telephone directly with a coconspirator, he was recorded by law enforcement setting up a meeting in the Dominican Republic to plan shipments of narcotics to New York.

"No matter what steps a narcotics trafficker might take to avoid being apprehended, ultimately there is no escape from justice," said Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "Thanks to the cooperation of our partners in Mexico, there is no safe haven for a drug trafficker, and kingpins are no exception."

"With roots in Guadalajara to distribution cells throughout the Eastern seaboard, this drug trafficking organization was responsible for smuggling millions of dollars of cocaine into our nation," said John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the DEA New York office. "The arrest today sends a message to drug traffickers that you can run, but you cannot hide from global law enforcement who share a goal of putting you out of business."

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty. If convicted, Rodriguez-Olivera faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years' imprisonment, and forfeiture of $50 million. The government's case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter M. Norkin.

HSI was joined in the investigation by DEA, the Internal Revenue Service and law enforcement authorities in Mexico.