PANAMA CITY, Fla. - Two of six defendants arrested in a large scale drug-trafficking conspiracy with ties to Mexico were convicted by jury yesterday following a four-day trial in federal court in Panama City.
The case was a multi-agency investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and local law enforcement in Florida and Alabama.
"Stopping the flow of drugs, weapons and other contraband across our borders is a top priority for ICE and we will continue to work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to disrupt these kinds of activities," said Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI Office in Tampa. "Narcotics smuggling poses a threat to our communities and is a national security issue."
Jose Barajas, 53, of Texas, and Pascual Montor-Torres, 27, of Mexico, were convicted of conspiring with co-defendants Ramiro Gomez-Gomez, Martin Ramirez-Rodriguez, Santiago Valdez-Gomez, Maria Cifuentes-Espinoza, and Florencio Barrios- Hernandez to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine between April 2009 and May 2010.
With the exception of Gomez-Gomez, who is a fugitive, each of the co-defendants pleaded guilty in the case over the course of the past month.
Barajas was a drug courier who brought multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine from Houston to drug stash houses in Dothan, Ala., and Alford, Fla. He delivered the cocaine to Ramirez-Rodriguez, Valdez-Gomez, and Gomez-Gomez. Barajas transported the cocaine in a Ford F150 truck, which had secret compartments within the wheel-well liners of the truck's front tires. After Barajas delivered the cocaine, Montor-Torres tested its quality, repackaged it, and sold it in smaller quantities.
In addition to the drug-trafficking charges in this case, many of the defendants also faced gun charges, stemming from a scheme by Gomez-Gomez and Ramirez-Rodriguez to obtain AK-47 machine guns from the Panama City area and export them to Mexico for use by associates engaged in a war with rival drug cartels over control of the lucrative drug routes into the United States.
Ramirez-Rodriguez pleaded guilty to conspiring to export machine guns from the United States and possessing machine guns. Ramirez-Rodriguez, Valdez-Gomez, and Barrios-Hernandez also pleaded guilty to being illegal aliens in possession of firearms.
Barajas and Montor-Torres will be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak at hearings beginning at 9:45 a.m. on Nov. 10. They face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life imprisonment. Their co-defendants are scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Smoak at hearings beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 27.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Gayle E. Littleton.