News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 5, 2010
Contact: Casey McEnry
Number: 415-436-7994

Merced Cocaine Convoy Leader Sentenced to More than 21 Years in Prison
Multi-agency Operation Nets 14 Convictions, 197 Kilos of Cocaine, over $2 Million, 2 Houses

FEB 5 -- FRESNO, Calif.—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams, announced today that United States District Judge Oliver W. Wanger sentenced SERGIO REYNOL PADILLA, 43, of Merced, to 21 years and 10 months in federal prison for his leadership role in a vast six-year conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute large quantities of cocaine.

This case is the product of an investigation, sponsored by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). OCDETF is a focused interagency program investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Members of the OCDETF task force in this case included the Drug Enforcement Administration, the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigation, the Merced Police Department, the Merced Multi-agency Narcotics Task Force, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, and the Sheriff’s Department in Douglas County, Nebraska.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar who is prosecuting this operation, the operation dubbed “Cocaine Convoy” took its name from the scheme uncovered in the drug trafficking conspiracy whereby the defendants would smuggle large shipments of cocaine from Mexico to the Central Valley and then ship it via semi tractor trailers to the Philadelphia area for distribution to gang members there.

U.S. Attorney Wagner said, “The sentencing of Sergio Padilla closes the door on a sophisticated organization that used the Central Valley as a channel for its drug trafficking operations. We are grateful to the participating law enforcement agencies whose sustained collaborative efforts led to the conviction of 14 federal defendants, seizure of 35 kilograms of cocaine and two homes, and forfeiture of over $2 million in cash.”

In his plea agreement, PADILLA admitted that between January 1, 2000 and May 22, 2006, he conspired with others to distribute at least 197 kilograms (433 pounds) of cocaine valued at $2,851,759 in California, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and elsewhere. They shipped it in semi-tractor trailers, often filled with legitimate agricultural products, to the East Coast of the United States for distribution in the Philadelphia area. He admitted that he laundered $100,000 in drug proceeds through the Lasher Brothers Trucking business based in Los Banos and used these laundered funds to purchase an apartment complex in Merced.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams stated, “Operation Cocaine Convoy was the end of the road for this bi-coastal drug distribution ring. This sentencing demonstrates what is accomplished when multiple law enforcement agencies come together and combine their expertise.”

At PADILLA’s sentencing hearing, Judge Wanger considered testimony and evidence that PADILLA had obtained and shipped over 1,000 kilograms of cocaine to the East Coast. Judge Wanger concluded that a prison sentence of 262 months was just punishment in light of PADILLA’s leadership role in the “active distribution to street gangs” and his willingness to involve witting and unwitting family members in his drug trafficking activities. For example, PADILLA involved his sister and co-defendant LORENA PEREZ in concealing his drug proceeds. Drug agents seized from PEREZ’s home in Merced $1,089,000 in cash derived from PADILLA’s drug trafficking activities. Judge Wanger also imposed a 10-year term of supervised release or unsupervised release, if PADILLA is deported to Mexico. PADILLA is not lawfully present in the United States.

In addition to PADILLA, the following defendants have been convicted as a result of the investigation in this case:

PHILIP BRIZAN, 44, of Atwater, California, convicted of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, sentenced to 11 years in prison;

WAYNE BRIZAN, aka Cornelius JAMES, aka Mark BRIZAN, aka Anthony WILKINS, 40, of Davie, Fla., convicted of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, sentenced to 10 years and nine months in custody;

JUDE BRIZAN, 45, of Modesto, convicted of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, sentenced to seven years and one month in prison;

GILBERT FRANKLIN, 34, of Merced, convicted of 2 counts of unlawful use of a communication facility to facilitate a felony drug offense, sentenced to eight years in prison;

LORENA PEREZ, 41, of Merced, convicted of interstate transportation of drug proceeds, sentenced to five years in prison;

DAMON GUNN, aka Damian Gunn, 34, of Turlock, convicted of interstate transportation of drug proceeds, sentenced to five years in prison;

HOWARD GORDON JR., 34, of Los Angeles, convicted of attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine, sentenced to four years and nine months in prison;

TRINIDAD ANGULO, 43, of Madera, convicted of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, sentenced to four years and three months in prison;

GERARDO VARGAS GALICIA, 41, of Merced, convicted of avoidance of examination by immigration officers, sentenced to six months in custody;

MONICA PADILLA, 32, wife of PADILLA, of Merced, convicted of causing the filing of false currency transaction report, sentenced to five months in prison;

DANIEL ANGULO, 41, extradited from the Republic of Mexico, convicted of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, pending sentencing;

FRANCHESKA BRIZAN, aka Francheska Hubble, 40, of Atwater, California, convicted of misprision of a felony, pending sentencing;

SAMUEL CAMACHO-GIL, 60, of Firebaugh, convicted of making false statements to DEA agents.

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