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March 22, 2012

Department of Justice

United States Attorney William C. Killian Eastern District of Tennessee

Antonio Herrera Sentenced in Major Cocaine Trafficking Organization Operating in the Tri-Cities Area

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- On March 21, 2012, Antonio Herrera Vasquez, 36, of Johnson City, Tenn.,was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville, by the Honorable Leon Jordan, U.S. District Judge, to serve 211 months in prison for his participation in a vast cocaine conspiracy and for possessing a firearm in furtherance of his drug activity.

Herrera was one of 36 defendants indicted in October 2010 for engaging in large scale cocaine and marijuana 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 made over 100 cocaine buys from the various defendants in this conspiracy. At this time approximately 14 of these defendants have already been sentenced and most of the others are scheduled to be sentenced over the next several months. Herrera and the majority of the other defendants are Mexican citizens and will be deported after serving their sentences.

Herrera sold cocaine or assisted in the sale of cocaine to a confidential informant working on the behalf of law enforcement on 10 separate occasions over the span of approximately eight to nine months. Ultimately, law enforcement agents concluded the overall investigation by executing 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.

Herrera resided in Johnson City with one of the main leaders/organizers of the conspiracy, co-defendant Tomas Estrada Sarabia. During a search of their residence, agents located an approximate half kilogram of cocaine and several firearms. The majority of the cocaine was found in a cooler in Herrera’s bedroom with a 9mm pistol, a magazine with two rounds of ammunition and digital scales.

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 (1stDTF), Tennessee Second Judicial District Drug Task Force (2ndDTF), 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 (FBI), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), all of which provided invaluable assistance during the course of the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Taylor represented the United States.

This case was part of the Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (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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