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August 24, 2012

Department of Justice

United States Attorney William C. Killian Eastern District of Tennessee

Federal Jury Convicts Member Of Major Mexican Cocaine Trafficking Organization Operating In The Tri-Cities Area

GREENEVILLE, Tenn.- Following a three day trial in U.S. District Court, on August 23, 2012, a jury convicted Mario Hernandez Velazquez, 44, of Johnson City, Tenn., on all 13 counts charged, including cocaine conspiracy and distribution, being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition, using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.

Sentencing is set for 10:30 a.m., on January 8, 2013. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 67 years.

On five separate occasions, over a period of approximately eight months, Velazquez sold cocaine or assisted in the sale of cocaine to an individual working on behalf of law enforcement. During these transactions, he admitted he was the firearms dealer for the organization and was always armed. In one transaction, Velazquez told the individual that someone broke into his residence and stole two kilograms of cocaine. As a result, he routinely packed his cocaine and guns in a suitcase and took it with him whenever he left home. In a subsequent transaction, Velazquez told the informant that if someone came to rob him again, he would “blow them to hell,” and “not many idiots are going to withstand two or three bullets.”

Velazquez was one of 36 individuals indicted in October 2010 for engaging in large scale cocaine trafficking. The conspiracy was responsible for the distribution of several kilograms of cocaine per month in the Tri-Cities area over an extended period of time. Law enforcement agents executed a search warrant at the residence of Velazquez in October 2010 and found quantities of cocaine, a firearm, ammunition and digital scales.

Overall, law enforcement agents made over 100 cocaine buys from the various individuals in this conspiracy. The investigation concluded with the execution of 13 search warrants at various locations in Johnson City, Kingsport and Knoxville, Tenn. During these searches, agents found approximately 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, 200 pounds of marijuana and a significant number of firearms and ammunition.

Currently, 33 of these individuals have already been sentenced including: Antonio Herrera, Manuel Burelo and Andres Linares who were sentenced to 211 months, 134 months and 124 months respectively; and Luciano Hernandez Valiente, Amansio Garcia Juarez and Adan Fernandez who were sentenced to 120 months each.

U.S. Attorney William C. Killian stated, “We are pleased with the jury’s verdict. Our prosecutors and the federal and state law enforcement agencies working on this case did a tremendous job of obtaining and presenting the evidence in this case. We were able to show the scope of the drug distribution activities of the organization, including the use and threatened use of firearms that often attaches to the illegal distribution of drugs. I want to thank all those involved in bringing Mr. Velazquez to justice.”

Law enforcement agencies participating in the investigation which led to the indictment and subsequent conviction of Herrera and others include the Tennessee First Judicial District Drug Task Force, Tennessee Second Judicial District Drug Task Force, Sullivan County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office, Kingsport Tennessee Police Department, Bristol Tennessee Police Department, Carter County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office, Elizabethton Tennessee Police Department, Erwin Tennessee Police Department, Washington County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office, Johnson City Tennessee Police Department, Jonesborough Tennessee Police Department, Hamblen County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office, Morristown Tennessee Police Department, Johnson County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office, Knox County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office, Knoxville Tennessee Police Department, Knoxville Tennessee High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA), Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, all of which provided invaluable assistance during the course of the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wayne Taylor and Christian Lampe represented the United States.

This case was part of the Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the HIDTA programs. OCDETF is the primary weapon of the United States against the highest level drug trafficking organizations operating within the United States, importing drugs into the United States, or laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking. The HIDTA program enhances and coordinates drug control efforts among local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies. The program provides agencies with coordination, equipment, technology, and additional resources to combat drug trafficking and its harmful consequences in critical regions of the United States.

Funding for some of the task forces involved in this investigation also came from the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Area Task Force (HIDTA) which was created in 1998, one of 32 areas in the nation that have been designated as HIDTAs. The HIDTA Program began in 1988 when Congress authorized the Director of The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to designate areas within the United States which exhibit serious drug trafficking problems and harmfully impact other areas of the country as HIDTAs. The HIDTA Program provides additional federal resources to those areas to help eliminate or reduce drug trafficking and its harmful consequences.

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