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Leader of Guatemalan drug trafficking organization indicted for conspiring to import, distribute heroin, cocaine

Human couriers smuggled drugs on commercial flights in food, drink containers

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A leader of a drug trafficking organization based in Guatemala, along with a U.S.-based associate, were indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday for participating in a conspiracy to import and distribute multiple kilograms of heroin and cocaine into the United States. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Lelo Sandoval, 47, of Jalapa, Guatemala, and Cesar Duran, 55, of Chicago, were indicted on four counts of conspiracy to import and distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and at least five kilograms of cocaine. Sandoval and Duran each face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

According to the indictment, from late 2009 until September 2013, Sandoval served as a leader of a drug trafficking organization in Guatemala that imported heroin and cocaine from Guatemala and Honduras into the United States through the use of human couriers. The couriers often traveled on commercial airliners that landed in various U.S. airports, including Dulles, JFK and O'Hare, and they smuggled the drugs within their luggage in containers intended for food and drinks like juice boxes, refried beans and powdered milk. The couriers also drove vehicles carrying concealed heroin and cocaine over the U.S.-Mexico border, while other packages were delivered through the U.S. mail system.

After importation, the heroin and cocaine would be distributed and sold in the United States by members of the drug trafficking organization. The indictment identifies 10 occasions from late 2009 through March 2013 where members of the conspiracy smuggled or attempted to smuggle at least 28 kilograms of heroin and 13 kilograms of cocaine. In September 2013, Sandoval and Duran were arrested together in Guatemala while in possession of several kilograms of heroin.

Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.