SEATTLE, WASH-- The leader of a Colombian cocaine trafficking organization was sentenced to 34 years in prison today in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Nivaldo Riascos Renteria, 41, is one of three men who were extradited from Colombia following an undercover investigation into a multi-ton cocaine trafficking conspiracy. In May 2011, the three were convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering charges following a two-week jury trial. Last week, Miguel Antonio Jimenes Torres, a/k/a “Miguel Angel Jimenez,” 40, a transportation broker for the group, was sentenced to over 28 years in prison and five years of supervised release. The third defendant Hector Fabio Zapata Alvares, a/k/a “Hector Fabio Zapata,” 30, will be sentenced November 7, 2011.
“Today, these two narco-terrorists felt the sting by the U.S. justice system,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Matthew G. Barnes. “DEA’s commitment across the globe to combat drug trafficking is evidenced in this investigation, which has reached deep into the jungles of Colombia to keep our communities safe.”
According to records filed in the case and testimony at trial, Miguel Jimenes acted as a transportation broker, assisting several different drug cartels with locating ships and planes to take tons of cocaine from South America to Mexico for further distribution into the United States; and from South America to Africa and Europe. One of the drug trafficking organizations he conspired with was the Riascos drug trafficking organization, led by Nivaldo Riascos Renteria and other members of the Riascos family. Testimony at trial revealed that the Riascos organization had a contract to acquire 70 tons of cocaine from the paramilitary group known as FARC -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist organization. The FARC controls cocaine production in South America, which is the only region in the world where cocaine is produced, and uses the proceeds of cocaine trafficking to finance their terrorist activity.
In 2007, an undercover DEA agent posed as a shipping executive with offices located in Seattle, Washington, Miami, Florida and Vancouver, Canada. Jimenez, Zapata, Riascos and others met with the undercover agent and other confidential sources in Panama and Ecuador to arrange the transport of ten tons of cocaine. Specifically, the defendants negotiated with the undercover agent to hide their cocaine in ballast tanks on the vessels, which are located underneath the vessel’s cargo tanks, and not readily accessible to law enforcement that may attempt to inspect the vessel’s cargo. The conspirators agreed to pay the undercover agent $300 per kilogram of cocaine that was transported, and then wired more than $491,000 from Mexico as a down payment for transporting 10 tons of cocaine from the coast of Ecuador to Mexico. During the negotiations, members of the organization inspected additional vessels to transport a second ten-ton load of cocaine, which was to occur immediately after the completion of the first drug transportation contract. The 20 tons of cocaine that the Riascos organization sought to transport was worth more than a half a billion dollars. As part of the negotiations, the Riascos drug trafficking organization provided the undercover agent nautical coordinates where the cocaine was to be transferred to their Mexican counterparts, off the coast of Mexico. These coordinates corresponded to a geographical area controlled by the Beltran-Leyva drug trafficking organization, which is known by Mexican law enforcement to distribute ton quantities of cocaine into the United States through the southwest border between Mexico and the United States.
In early 2008, the Colombian army raided a Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) campsite located in Ecuador, and the FARC leader Raul Reyes was killed. Testimony at trial revealed that the Riascos drug trafficking organization had members at the FARC campsite days before the raid. The Riascos drug trafficking organization told the undercover agent that as a result of this military incursion, the transportation of cocaine would be postponed. The United States government then proceeded with seeking the extradition of the five individuals charged in the conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine.
Two of five people indicted in the cocaine trafficking conspiracy were killed prior to the arrest of the defendants in Colombia. Jimenez, Zapata, Riascos were taken into custody in Colombia in February 2009, and were extradited to the U.S. in 2010 and early 2011.
The investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and was financed fully by the money the drug cartel sent to the U.S. as a down payment for the shipping. This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.