TUCSON, AZ. - Victor A. Flores, 51, pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring with others to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 8 tons of cocaine. The cocaine had been smuggled into the United States through a tunnel that extended into Naco, Ariz, from Mexico.
The investigation began after the seizure of 5.6 tons of cocaine from a warehouse in Tucson in December, 1996. During the course of the investigation an additional 2,660 pounds of cocaine, three fully automatic machine guns and $1.5 million in cash were seized. Over 50 people connected to the Naco tunnel have been convicted and Flores was one of five that remained at large for years.
Flores was to face trial in 2001 for his involvement in the cocaine conspiracy. He fled one week before the start of the trial and remained a fugitive until his arrest in Mexico in 2010. He was extradited to the United States in December 2010.
“The Naco drug tunnel was one of the most notorious and shocking smuggling cases we have seen in this state, and this defendant played a key role in the cocaine conspiracy,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. “I commend the law enforcement team that stayed on the trail of Victor Flores while he was a fugitive and brought him to justice.”
DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman added, “This investigation is the result of law enforcement on both sides of the border working together to effectively dismantle major drug organizations. DEA and its partners remain relentless in our efforts to bring those individuals responsible to justice as well as to block their smuggling routes into this country.”
“Today's guilty plea is the culmination of a collective effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Arizona Department of Public Safety,” said FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong, Phoenix Division. “When this organization was disrupted, a significant impact was made to drug trafficking along the southwest border. The discovery of this sophisticated tunnel kept a large amount of drugs from being distributed throughout the United States. Law enforcement in southern Arizona will continue to work together to combat criminal activity along the border.”
There have been three trials involving the Naco Tunnel thus far. Two took place in 2001 and the third in 2007. In the 2007 trial, Francisco Valle-Hurtado, 38, and Ruben Ulteras-Estrada were convicted of possession with intent to distribute 17,715 lbs. of cocaine. Valle-Hurtado was also convicted of possessing a machine gun while committing the cocaine violation. He used the machine gun to guard the cocaine after it had passed through the tunnel that extended 210 feet from Mexico to Naco, Arizona. Both defendants were sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Flores faces sentencing before United States District Court Judge Cindy Jorgenson on October 3, 2011. He faces a minimum of 10 years in prison with a maximum of life, and a fine of up to $4 million.
The overall investigation was conducted in partnership with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The prosecution is being handled by James T. Lacey, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Tucson.