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August 19, 2012Tuscon, AZ, United StatesNarcotics

Ring leader, 20 others sentenced for drug smuggling on Tohono O'odham Nation

TUCSON, Ariz. – A Mexican man who oversaw a drug smuggling operation that used undocumented aliens carrying backpacks to smuggle marijuana through the Tohono O'odham Nation was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in federal prison.

Flavio Diaz-Pina, 33, of Caborca, Sonora, Mexico, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jennifer G. Zipps after pleading guilty May 30 to possession of firearms in relation to a drug trafficking offense. Diaz-Pina is the last of 21 defendants to be sentenced in the case, which was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with significant assistance from U.S. Border Patrol, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Tohono O'odham Police Department.

According to court documents, U.S. Border Patrol agents and HSI special agents developed information indicating that backpacks of marijuana were being trafficked from a residence in Cocklebur, a small village on the Tohono O'odham Nation near Interstate 8. When investigators arrived at the residence, they encountered Diaz-Pina, and discovered he was using the residence to transfer marijuana smuggled from Mexico to vehicles for transportation to Phoenix and Tucson.

Investigators served a federal search warrant of the property and found a Glock 9 mm pistol, a Smith and Wesson 9 mm pistol, a Cobra .380-caliber pistol and a Russian SKS assault rifle, as well as ammunition for each of the firearms. They also found more than $12,000 in U.S. currency, cell phones, police radio scanning equipment, night vision goggles and binoculars.

"Drug trafficking organizations cannot escape prosecution by establishing their operations in remote locations in Indian country," said U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo. "We will continue to work with our dedicated law enforcement partners to eradicate crime, even in the farthest reaches of Indian country."

"These prison sentences demonstrate there are serious consequences for smuggling drugs into the United States," said Rodney Irby, assistant special agent in charge of HSI Sells. "HSI special agents worked closely with their law enforcement partners to identify the members of this criminal organization, conduct a thorough investigation, and bring them to justice. HSI remains committed to these partnerships and our collective efforts to dismantle drug smuggling organizations."

Diaz-Pina and 20 others have been convicted and sentenced to a total of 26 years in prison as a result of the investigation. Also convicted were 17 undocumented aliens who backpacked marijuana from Mexico to the stash house in Cocklebur. They were convicted of transporting marijuana. Two members of the Tohono O'odham Nation who lived in a trailer in Cocklebur where the backpackers stayed were convicted of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens. Another conviction involved a U.S. citizen who was found guilty of transporting marijuana from Cocklebur to Phoenix and Tucson.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan P. DeJoe of the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Arizona, Tucson.