PENSACOLA, Fla. - The head of a multi-state cocaine trafficking ring was sentenced last week to 30 years in federal prison for drug and firearms charges, following an investigation conducted by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDEFT), which included agents and officers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Pensacola Police Department and the Escambia County Sheriffs Office.
Alejandrino Popoca, 33, of Foley, Ala., was the leader of an armed cocaine distribution organization responsible for transporting kilogram quantities of cocaine from Mexico to Texas, Alabama, and Florida, using vehicles equipped with hidden compartments, between 2007 and 2010.
Two of Popoca's co-defendants were also sentenced to prison last week. On Dec. 9, Francisco Torres-Rodriguez, 22, was sentenced to serve 162 months in federal prison and Juan Jalomo-Ruiz, 44, was sentenced to serve 78 months.
All three were convicted at the conclusion of a jury trial held in U.S. District Court in Pensacola earlier this year. Evidence developed during the OCDEFT Operation "Bayou Run" established that Popoca and his nephew, Torres-Rodriguez, boasted of membership in the "Gulf Cartel," an organized crime and narcotics organization primarily based out of Mexico. Their involvement in the organization included attempting to arrange the murders of at least two cooperating federal witnesses.
"Stopping the flow of drugs, weapons and other contraband across our borders is a national security issue and a top priority for ICE," said Susan McCormick special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Tampa, which oversees Pensacola. "We will continue to work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to disrupt these kinds of activities, which serve to fuel the violence taking place across the Southwest border."
Both Popoca and Torres-Rodriguez were arrested after a high speed chase in Pensacola, where witnesses testified that they and others had crossed state lines with the intent to murder another co-conspirator they suspected of stealing a shipment of cocaine destined for delivery to Pensacola on May 23. Unbeknownst to Popoca and Torres-Rodriguez, the person they were dealing with was cooperating with law enforcement, and the missing load of cocaine was not stolen, but was in the custody of federal agents in Pensacola. The Nissan pick-up in which both Popoca and Torres-Rodriguez were riding at the time of their arrest contained multiple firearms, a .45 caliber pistol and .38 caliber revolver, both of which were loaded.
Operation "Bayou Run" has resulted in the federal convictions of 19 defendants in Northern District of Florida and Southern District of Alabama, including the convictions of Popoca's remaining four co-defendants, Juan Jalomo-Ruiz, Jorge Laureano-Arvayo, Phillip DeWayne Parker and Charles Wade.
U.S. Attorney Pamela C. Marsh said, "There's absolutely no question that multi-billion dollar Mexican drug cartel networks are funneling illegal drugs and firearms into our communities. These cartels engage in horrific violent acts that pose a threat to citizens in both Mexico and the United States. It is one of the Department of Justice's highest priorities to stem the flow of drugs, cash and weapons to and from Mexico by focusing on investigations of east and southbound smuggling across our District."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas P. Swaim prosecuted this case.