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Leader of international cocaine smuggling ring sentenced to nearly 20 years

HOUSTON – A Nigerian man has been sentenced to 19 years and seven months in federal prison for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in conjunction with the Brazilian and Panamanian Federal Police.

Ade Lawrence, 33, of Nigeria, who was considered to be the leader/organizer of the conspiracy, was sentenced to 235 months in prison without parole. Lawrence will be deported after he completes his prison sentence. At the hearing, the prosecutor explained how Lawrence took advantage of vulnerable American women to transport drugs for him internationally. A federal jury convicted Lawrence following a five-day trial in March.

Lawrence was indicted in January 2011 with co-defendants Monica Mitchell, 35, and Gwendolyn Free, 54, both of Austin, Texas, and Felicia Parker, 31, of Houston, for their roles in a complex conspiracy of international cocaine smuggling. Parker was convicted at trial. Free and Mitchell pleaded guilty to the charges.

At trial, text messages, emails and flight itineraries demonstrated how Lawrence had orchestrated travel accommodations and narcotics pickups between co-defendants arrested in Brazil and Panama. The co-defendants were arrested for attempting to smuggle more than five kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine destined for Europe. Mitchell and Free offered testimony regarding Lawrence and Parker's knowledge of, and participation in, the conspiracy.

The defense, however, asserted that Lawrence was not the individual target in the investigation, and that Parker was merely visiting Panama, Brazil and London for vacation. After less than an hour of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict finding them both guilty as charged.

Lawrence has been in custody, where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility. Free and Mitchell were sentenced May 29 to respective terms of 40 months, and time served, each to be followed by three years of supervised release. Parker will be sentenced July 11, and was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.