WASHINGTON – A drug trafficker believed to have been operating since at least the 1980s was convicted by jury Monday of a federal drug conspiracy charge for his role as the leader of an international drug trafficking and money laundering ring that operated at least 14 years out of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Bahamas, France, Italy, Spain and other countries.
The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Metropolitan Police Department.
Gregory Joel Sitzmann, 61, who was born in Iowa and most recently resided in Colombia, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine.
The verdict followed a six-week trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Sitzmann faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison. A status hearing is scheduled for June 12.
"Mr. Sitzmann was the leader of an international drug trafficking and money laundering organization and is a career criminal with multiple narcotics felony convictions in the United States and elsewhere," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge for HSI Washington. "HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to pursue those who continue their illicit activities even after prior convictions."
According to the government's evidence, Sitzmann has used and conspired to use numerous individuals and methods to transport hundreds of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia and Mexico into the United States and into numerous countries around the world.
For example, he used commercial and private airplanes, automobiles, trucks and luggage with secret compartments to move the drugs. He also contemplated using Colombian air force planes to smuggle cocaine into Canada.
Evidence showed that Sitzmann has been involved in drug smuggling and money laundering since at least the 1980s and that he provided hundreds of kilograms of cocaine to a Hells Angels motorcycle gang in Montreal, Canada, throughout the 1990s. He maintained corporations and bank accounts in Panama, Switzerland, Luxembourg and elsewhere to facilitate his money laundering and the purchase of assets.
"Gregory Sitzmann was a high-flying international cocaine trafficker who eluded justice for decades," said U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., for the District of Columbia. "Thanks to a District of Columbia jury, Mr. Sitzmann is no longer free to smuggle cocaine and cash from one country to the next. He will now remain behind bars to contemplate the countless lives destroyed by the drugs he distributed for so many years."
"This case demonstrates that the District of Columbia cannot be used as a platform for distributing drugs throughout the United States," said Cathy L. Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department. "This defendant smuggled drugs worldwide for years. A jail cell is far less exotic than some of the countries he operated in – but fitting."
Sitzmann was indicted Aug. 7, 2008, by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for activities that took place during the 1990s and at least until 2004. The day after the indictment, Sitzmann was deported from France to the United States, where HSI special agents arrested him. He has been in custody ever since. The defendant delayed trial for years, using numerous attorneys while alternating with demands to represent himself.
The prosecution grew out of the efforts of the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency team that conducts comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the nationwide program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation's drug supply.
In recent years, investigations by this task force have led to the arrests and indictments of dozens of people from drug organizations that operate in the Washington, D.C., area.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the French National Police, French Customs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Royal Bahamas Police assisted in the investigation.