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Thursday, October 27, 2011

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Six Men Plead Guilty to Federal Drug Charges, Admit Conspiring To Distribute Methamphetamine In Washington Area
- Ring Claimed Ties to Mexican Drug Cartel -

     WASHINGTON - Six men have pled guilty to federal charges of conspiring to sell large quantities of crystal methamphetamine in the Washington D.C. area, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and John P. Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced today.

     The most recent plea took place this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Alfonso Martinez-Cruz, 40, pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Martinez-Cruz is to be sentenced January 18, 2012 by Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he faces an estimated 63 to 78 months of incarceration.

     Five other defendants earlier pled guilty before Judge Hogan to the conspiracy charges. They include: Alberto Garcia Calderon, 36, a leader of the ring; Alejandro Quintana Cardenas, 25; Sergio Garcia-Virelas, 25; Felipe Alvarado-Ponce, 37, and Jesus Bustos-Penaloza, 52.

     All six defendants, who are from Mexico, were indicted in December 2010 following their arrests at various locations in the Atlanta, Ga. area and Winston-Salem, N.C. All six defendants agreed to forfeit a money judgment for the amount of the proceeds of their conspiracy. The Court issued orders for Martinez-Cruz, Garcia-Virelas, Alvarado-Ponce and Bustos-Penaloza together to forfeit a combined total $3.15 million as part of their sentence. The Court is expected to issue similar orders for Calderon and Cardenas.

     Authorities conducted numerous searches in Georgia and North Carolina on December 10 and December 11, 2010. They seized more than 50 pounds of methamphetamine, six pounds of marijuana, three firearms, and more than $35,000 in cash in these coordinated law enforcement activities. In addition, five pounds of methamphetamine, one kilogram of cocaine and about five pounds of marijuana were recovered in the weeks leading to the arrests.

     According to MPD estimates, the street values of the seized drugs included more than $3.5 million worth of methamphetamine, $118,000 of cocaine, and $49,500 of marijuana.

     The investigation developed evidence that the ring had or was claiming ties to “La Familia,” a Mexican drug cartel that operates in that country and the United States. According to the government’s evidence, the cartel is known to distribute large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and crystal methamphetamine. The defendants were working to create a distribution network and market for crystal methamphetamine in the Washington, D.C. area.

     One of the defendants - Calderon - admitted in his plea that he was the manager or supervisor of others in the ring. He and Cardenas were arrested last December in Winston-Salem. Martinez-Cruz, Garcia-Virelas, Alvarado-Ponce and Bustos-Penaloza were arrested in Atlanta.

     “Crystal meth is an extremely addictive drug that devastates lives,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “With this prosecution, we were able to send six men to prison for their roles in seeking to funnel crystal meth from an Atlanta lab into the District of Columbia’s neighborhoods. The success of this investigation and prosecution makes clear that law enforcement is united and determined to dismantle the networks that try to profit by selling poison. In this case, the Metropolitan Police Department and ICE HSI kept this ring from moving into the city.”

     “We are committed to eliminating criminal enterprises that peddle poison to the streets of Washington D.C.,” said Chief Lanier. “The issue of drugs and drug-related violence is not a local or regional matter. It’s a national problem. While local law enforcement must continue its efforts in the area of drug prevention, joint investigations such as this which disrupt and dismantle drug cartels from top to bottom are a very effective tool. This case will have a positive impact on the Washington area; an immediate visible and tangible result will be evident. On behalf of our Narcotics and Special Investigations Division, to our federal partners, we extend our gratitude for their support, cooperation, collaboration in this investigation. MPD has such an important duty to the citizens of the District of Columbia.”

     “In this instance, a drug trafficking organization was unsuccessful in establishing a new market in the Washington, D.C. area,” said Special Agent in Charge Torres. “ICE HSI, along with its law enforcement partners, will continue to combat drug cartels by investigating and aggressively dismantling these organizations that have brought drugs and violence to our communities.”

     Calderon pled guilty in September 2011 and is to be sentenced December 5, 2011. If his plea agreement is accepted by the Court, he faces a prison sentence between 15 and 18 years.

     Cardenas pled guilty in September 2011 and is to be sentenced December 2, 2011. If his plea agreement is accepted, he faces 13 to 16 years of incarceration.

     Bustos-Penaloza pled guilty earlier this month and is to be sentenced January 9, 2012. Under federal sentencing guidelines he faces a likely sentence of 130 to 147 months in prison.

     The other two defendants already have been sentenced. Garcia-Virelas pled guilty in June 2011 and was sentenced earlier this month to an 11-year prison term. Alvarado-Ponce also pled guilty in June 2011 and was sentenced earlier this month to a 64-month prison term.

     According to the government’s evidence, Calderon and others in his organization kept methamphetamine in a home that was being used as a laboratory in the Atlanta area. During a search of that home, authorities found at least 50 pounds of methamphetamine in various states, including crystal and liquid methamphetamine, along with two firearms. Another firearm was found in a search of an apartment in the Atlanta area. About six pounds of marijuana was recovered in a search of an apartment in Winston-Salem.

     The investigation was conducted by the Metropolitan Police Department and ICE Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from Criminal Investigator Duncan Templeton of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In addition, Paralegals Catherine O'Neal, Kim Hall and Teesha Tobias and Legal Assistant Priscilla Hutson of the U.S. Attorney's Office provided assistance in the case.

     The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karla-Dee Clark, Vincent Caputy and Nihar Mohanty, of the District of Columbia.

     The prosecution grew out of the efforts of the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency team that conducts comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the nationwide program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.

     In recent years, investigations by this task force have led to the arrests and indictments of dozens of people from drug organizations that operate in the Washington, D.C. area.

     Numerous agencies provided assistance during the investigation. In Georgia, they included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Atlanta; DEA Task Force Officers from the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office; Alpharetta, Ga. Police, Fire and HAZMAT teams; the Georgia State Patrol; the Sandy Springs Police Department; and HSI Task Force officers from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, and Marietta and Conyers police departments. In North Carolina, they include the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Stokes County Sheriff’s Office, and the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, Bureau of License and Theft. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Northern District of Georgia and the Middle District of North Carolina also assisted in the investigation and court hearings.

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