RETIRED BOLIVIAN GENERAL AND OTHER BOLIVIAN NATIONAL SENTENCED TO DRUG TRAFFICKING CONSPIRACY
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Miami Field Division, announced that retired Bolivian General Rene Sanabria-Oropeza and Marcelo Foronda-Azero were sentenced today before United States District Judge Ursula Ungaro. Sanabria-Oropeza and Foronda-Azero had previously entered pleas of guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 963, on June 23, 2011. Sanabria-Oropeza was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, and Foronda-Azero was sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment.
The arrests and charges were the result of an investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, with the assistance of special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The investigation began in the summer of 2010, when Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja approached a DEA confidential source to talk about selling bulk kilogram loads of cocaine to a Colombian drug trafficking organization that they believed the source worked for. The investigation revealed that Foronda-Azero and Sanchez-Pantoja were able to produce and export bulk kilogram loads of cocaine from Bolivia to the United States. Specifically, in recorded meetings and phone calls, Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja agreed to sell one hundred kilograms of cocaine to a DEA undercover agent and a confidential source, who were posing as members of the Colombian drug trafficking organization that wanted to distribute cocaine in the Miami, Florida area and other parts of the United States. Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja also wanted to send an additional quantity of cocaine for the undercover agent and the confidential source to sell on behalf of Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja, for which Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja would received $14,000 per kilogram of cocaine sold. Both Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja indicated that their cocaine was protected by Bolivian police authorities. Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja also provided the undercover with bank accounts in Hong Kong where the money was to be wired.
On August 21, 2010, Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja, Rene Sanabria-Oropeza, and Milton Sanchez-Pantoja met with the undercover agent and confidential source, who were posing as representatives of the Colombian drug organization. These meetings were recorded and surveillance was conducted with the assistance of the Carabineros de Chile. Sanabria-Oropez is a retired general and former head of the Bolivian National Police anti-narcotics unit, known as FELCN (La Fuerzas Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotrafico). At the time of the meeting and his arrest, Sanabria-Oropeza was a high-ranking civilian staffer in the Bolivian Government and the current Director of CIGIEN (El Servicio de Intelligencia de la Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotrafico dependiente del Ministerio del Gobierno), which is the Bolivian National Intelligence Agency. Milton Sanchez-Pantoja held the rank of Colonel and was working with the Bolivian National Police anti-narcotics unit in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. In audio and video-recorded meetings with the DEA undercover and confidential source, Sanabria-Oropeza and Milton Sanchez-Pantoja agreed to use their official positions to provide protection for the cocaine load sent by Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja to ensure that the cargo container holding the cocaine would safely cross the Bolivia-Chile border without being seized. Sanabria-Oropeza also indicated that they controlled the airport and could protect cocaine shipments sent by commercial airlines from Bolivia. Specifically, Sanabria-Oropeza agreed to provide the protection for a price of $2,500 per kilogram of cocaine sent, along with an additional $10,000 to be distributed among Sanabria-Oropeza and Milton Sanchez's men. At the end of the meeting, Sanabria-Oropeza and Milton Sanchez were given $50,000.
In late September, 2010, Foronda-Azero and Jorge Sanchez-Pantoja sent 144 kilograms of cocaine to the Port of Miami secreted in a cargo container containing zinc rocks. The cargo container traveled overland from Bolivia to the Port of Arica in Chile, before being loaded onto a ship and traveling to the Port of Miami. On November 29, 2010, the DEA took possession of the container and seized the 144 kilograms of cocaine. After the appropriate payments were made, both Foronda-Azero and Sanabria-Oropeza agreed to travel to the Dominican Republic to meet with the undercover agent and confidential source to discuss a future shipment of cocaine to the United States. On February 24, 2011, while awaiting their connecting flight in Panama City, Panama, they were arrested by Panamanian authorities and transferred to the United States pursuant to Panamanian law.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer stated, “Drug trafficking, and the lure of drug money, has no bounds. This office stands committed to prosecuting high-level international drug trafficking organizations, and those that would protect their criminal enterprise, which, in this case, included a retired Bolivian General.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark Trouville stated, “The prosecution of General Sanabria shows the relentless efforts by DEA to go after every level within a drug trafficking organization, specifically, those individuals that violate their position of public trust by engaging in clear acts of corruption.”
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts and the hard work of the DEA, and thanked ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations and CBP for their assistance on this case. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Dobbins.
Today’s case is part of “Operation Just Because,” an ongoing Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation led by DEA. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.