WASHINGTON – Two Las Vegas men were sentenced yesterday in the District of Nevada to 20 and 25 years in prison for their roles in an international cocaine distribution and money laundering conspiracy, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden of the District of Nevada announced today.
U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro sentenced Jose Lopez-Buelna, aka “Miguel,” 51, to 20 years in prison, and Erik Dushawn Webster, 47, to 25 years in prison. Lopez-Buelna and Webster were also sentenced to five years of supervised release.
Lopez-Buelna pleaded guilty on Feb. 16, 2011, to conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, conspiracy to launder money and two counts of money laundering. Webster was convicted by a federal jury on Feb. 18, 2011, of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and conspiracy to launder money.
At the sentencing hearings, the court found that the drug distribution conspiracy in this case involved 150 kilograms or more of cocaine.
According to court documents and trial testimony, from 2007 through October 2009, Lopez-Buelna and co-defendant Jesus Gastelum recruited various individuals, including Webster and others, to drive motor homes outfitted with sophisticated, lead-lined, hidden compartments throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada. The hidden compartments were used to store large amounts of cocaine and drug proceeds. Lopez-Buelna and Gastelum ordered the motor home drivers to make stops at various destinations, including Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Montreal, where the cocaine was unloaded and bulk cash was loaded into the hidden compartments. The motor home drivers then transported these proceeds from the cocaine distribution back to Mexico. Testimony at trial also indicated that Webster recruited additional motor home drivers to drive a motor home registered in his name across the U.S./Mexico border and back to various destinations in the United States.
Gastelum was charged with conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, conspiracy to launder money, money laundering and other charges. He remains a fugitive in this case.
Another co-defendant charged in the conspiracy, Adolph Vargas, aka “Adolph Vargas Ibarra,” aka “Al,” pleaded guilty in January 2011 to conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine and one count of money laundering. Vargas was sentenced in November 2011 to 97 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
On July 22, 2011, the court entered a final forfeiture order in the case against all of the defendants. The forfeiture order included two recreational vehicles, two .38 caliber semi-automatic pistols, various vehicles and more than $4 million, all of which represented drug proceeds that law enforcement recovered during the course of the investigation of this case.
The case was investigated by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation.
The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Marty Woelfle and Margaret Honrath of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, with substantial assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada.