Foreign National Pleads Guilty To Role In Drug Trafficking Organization
Maria Elena Rico-Lopez, 32, a citizen of Mexico who most recently resided in St. Louis, Missouri, entered a plea of guilty on July 10, 2013, to Conspiracy to Distribute and Possess With the Intent to Distribute Cocaine, and Entry Into the United States Without Inspection, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Stephen R. Wigginton, announced today. Rico-Lopez had been charged on August 22, 2012, in an eleven count indictment charging a total of ten individuals with being members of a large drug trafficking organization. Rico-Lopez is currently scheduled to be sentenced on November 1, 2013, at which time she faces a potential sentence of 5-40 years in prison, followed by a term of supervised release of not less than four years, a fine of up to $5,000,000, and a $100 special assessment. Rico-Lopez also admitted the Forfeiture Allegation in the Indictment and agreed to forfeit $34,720.00 to the United States. Rico-Lopez admitted that she is a citizen of Mexico who is in the United States illegally. She agreed to the entry of a Judicial Order of Removal, which will require her to be deported following the service of her sentence.
According to the Stipulation of Facts which was filed with the Court at the time of the plea, the organization charged in the Indictment was responsible for importing cocaine from Mexico into the United States, where it was taken to Salt Lake City, Utah. From Salt Lake City, the cocaine was transported by members of the conspiracy to the St. Louis Metropolitan area where it was distributed by various members of the organization, including some who operated within the Southern District of Illinois. Proceeds for the sales of the cocaine were then transported back to the leaders of the conspiracy in Salt Lake City.
Of the nine individuals named in the indictment with Rico-Lopez, five others have entered pleas of guilty and have either been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing; two others have been arrested and are awaiting trial; two are fugitives. Those not yet convicted are presumed innocent because an indictment is a formal charge against a defendant. Under the law, a defendant is presumed to be innocent of a charge and is entitled to a fair trial at which the Government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Evidence in support of the indictment in this case was obtained in an investigation which was conducted under the auspices of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF initiative is designed to bring federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and resources together to identify, target and dismantle large national and international drug trafficking organizations. Participating agencies include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI), U.S. Marshal Service, the Granite City Police Department, Fairview Heights Police Department, the Collinsville Police Department, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the St. Louis County (Missouri) Police Department, the St. Charles County (Missouri) Sheriff=s Department, and the Nebraska State Patrol. This case is assigned to Assistant United States Attorney Randy G. Massey for prosecution.