News and Press Releases

Sentences Handed Down in Case Involving Mexican Drug Cartel

September 4, 2013

Contact Person: Mark Moore (803) 929-3000

Columbia, South Carolina -----United States Attorney Bill Nettles  stated today that Guadalberto Morales-Salazar, age 32, and Lucilla Martinez-Vivanco, age 29, were sentenced today by United States District Judge Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. in Columbia. Both defendants were natives of Mexico who entered the United States illegally, and both previously entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and more that 5 kilograms of cocaine and to conspiracy to launder drug proceeds; Morales-Salazar also pled guilty to possessing a firearm in connection with drug trafficking. Judge Anderson sentenced Guadalberto Morales-Salazar to 252 months (21 years) in prison, and sentenced Lucilla Martinez-Vivanco to 240 months (20 years) in prison to be served without the possibility of parole. Judge Anderson further ordered that both be surrendered for deportation proceedings following their release from federal custody and that they forfeit their interests in illegally obtained monies and property. 

The sentences in this case resulted from a multi-agency investigation into the drug trafficking activities of the Martinez-Vivanco family and their associates.  Lucilla Martinez-Vivanco and her brother and co-defendant, Willibaldo Martinez-Vivanco, were born in Michoacan, Mexico, the home state of the notorious drug cartel “La Familia.” They, and a number of their family members and friends, relocated to the Columbia, South Carolina area where they used their connections with Mexican drug cartels to move thousands of pounds of marijuana and multiple kilograms of cocaine to the Columbia area for distribution. Wilibaldo ran the organization locally until he was arrested, sentenced to federal prison, and deported. While Wilibaldo eventually returned to the United States, he left the local operation under the control of his sister, Lucilla, and her boyfriend, Morales-Salazar. 

In late 2010, agents learned that the organization had rented two Columbia-area warehouses to store marijuana and cocaine after it was brought from the Mexican border in tractor-trailer trucks. Agents subsequently received permission from Judge Anderson to install closed-circuit television cameras and hidden microphones (or “bugs”) in the warehouses. In late January of 2011, agents executed a search warrant at one of the warehouses after they observed the off-loading of a truck full of marijuana driven by Florida-based truck driver Gary Farabee. Agents then arrested Lucilla Martinez-Vivanco, Guadalberto Morales-Salazar, Farabee, and four others (Heriberto and Hector Solario-Belmonte, Ignacio Andrade-Martinez and Faustino Soriano-Flores) and executed a series of federal search warrants in and around Columbia. During these search warrants, agents seized over one million dollars in cash, over 2000 pounds of marijuana, three kilograms of cocaine, multiple firearms, and a large quantity of MDMA (commonly called “Ecstasy”).

To date, three indictments have been handed down and some 24 defendants have pled guilty to federal drug and money-laundering charges as a result of this ongoing investigation. During the course of the investigation, agents learned that this was a family operation, with Lucilla Martinez-Vivanco and Morales-Salazar running the Columbia operation when Wilibaldo was absent. The drugs were transported from Mexico in trucks belonging to Lucilla and Willibaldo’s step-father, Florida native Juan Martinez. Lucilla’s cousin, Silvia Arreola-Vivanco was also involved in the operation, as were other family members.
In August of 2013, Judge Anderson sentenced a number of Columbia-area drug dealers who were supplied by the Martinez-Vivanco organization as follows, with all defendants sentenced to various terms of supervised release:

Alejando Douglas: 108 months (9 years)
Kareem Wells: 96 months (8 years)
Saul Gonzales: 55 months (4 years, 7 months)
Deidrich Jackson: 54 months (4 years, 6 months)
Chrispas Wells: 3 years’ probation

Judge Anderson also sentenced a number of defendants charged in connection with this investigation in late 2012 and early 2013. These defendants (who were sentenced to various terms of supervised release, with those entering the United States illegally to be subject to deportation proceedings following their release from federal custody) were sentenced as follows:

Wilibaldo Martinez-Vivanco:
15 years
Luis Hernandez: 192 months (15 years, 6 months)
Juan Martinez:   14 years
Ignacio Andrade-Martinez: 127 months (10 years, 3 months)
Faustino Soriano-Flores: 135 months (10 years, 11 months)
Lawrence Armstead: 138 months (11 years)
Silvia Vivanco-Arreola: 5 years
Manuel Colin 5 years
Gary Farabee: 54 months (4 years, 6 months)
Hector Solario-Belmonte: 35 months (2 years, 11 months)
Heriberto Solario-Belmonte: 35 months (2 years, 11 months)
All defendants sentenced in this case were also ordered to forfeit their interests in illegally-obtained property.

The investigation in this case was conducted primarily by agents and officers of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Columbia Police Department (CPD) and the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) assisted by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and the United States Marshal’s Service, working together on the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). Mr. Nettles commended the efforts of the three primary case agents at DEA, CPD, and IRS for their work on the case, noting that agents had seized over $2.5 million dollars in cash, over 5 kilograms of cocaine and over 6,000 pounds of marijuana during the course of this investigation.

Assistant United States Attorney Mark C. Moore of the Columbia office prosecuted the case.


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