News and Press Releases

Head of the Quintero Drug Trafficking Enterprise Convicted

June 28, 2011

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Juan Jose Quintero-Payan, 69, of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering (RICO), José Angel Moreno and John E. Murphy, United States Attorneys for the Southern and Western District of Texas, respectively, announced today along with Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Thomas E. Hinojosa and Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) Rodney E. Clarke.

“This is a great day for all law enforcement everywhere,” said Hinojosa. “The perseverance of all those involved in the drive to bring Juan Jose Quintero-Payan to justice is quite an achievement. Our people did what they do best and didn’t let time thwart their efforts. Justice has been served.”

According to the charges to which he pleaded guilty and the plea agreement filed in open court, Quintero-Payan was a leader of a long standing criminal enterprise whose operations spanned from Colombia and Peru in South America, to Mexico, the Cayman Islands and to the United States, between 1978 to March 2002, when the current superceding indictment was filed. The charged conduct includes the movement of numerous multi-ton loads of marijuana to the United States from Mexico, using specially altered natural gas tanker trucks, via El Paso, Texas. Multi-ton quantities of cocaine were acquired from Colombia and Peru for smuggling into Mexico by Quintero-Payan and other members of the conspiracy for re-shipment to the United States. According to the factual summary in the plea agreement, in one eight-month period alone, more than 90,000 kilos of marijuana were smuggled into the United States.

The charges detailed the movement of more than $20 million dollars in United States currency into banks in California and Texas and other deposits into banks in New York and the Cayman Islands. A network of real estate was allegedly acquired in Texas and California related to the drug enterprise’s operations to include ranches, airstrips and residences.

“We are pleased that Quintero-Payan has finally been brought to justice in the United States,” said Clarke. “This case represents yet another example of the immense partnership and commitment between federal law enforcement agencies, the Department of Justice and the Mexican Government in their resolve to disrupt criminal organizations that commit narcotics and financial crimes against the United States. Criminal organizations like the one headed up by Quintero-Payan are motivated by greed and in most instances this is what ultimately leads to their downfall.” In addition, Clarke commended the unwavering efforts and commitment of all of the agents and the prosecutors involved with this case throughout the years.

The charges grew out of a joint investigation coordinated by prosecutors in the Western District of Texas and Southern District of Texas dubbed Operation Cash Crop. The initial indictment was first brought in 1985 in San Antonio, Texas, which was superseded in March 1986 naming Quintero-Payan and 49 other defendants. Portions of those charges were tried in 1986 in San Antonio with additional prosecutions occurring in San Antonio and Brownsville, Texas, as a result of this investigative effort. The Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation was led by the DEA and IRS-CI with assistance from Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the United States Customs Service, now part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Narcotics Service of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Following the return of a sealed superseding indictment by a San Antonio grand jury and the issuance of a provisional arrest warrant in 2002, Quintero-Payan was arrested in Mexico. He fought against his extradition for eight years but landed in the U.S. on Friday, April 23, 2010, to face the federal charges.

Moreno praised the dedication and pursuit of justice by the agents and prosecutors whose efforts to bring Quintero-Payan spanned four decades. Borrowing a phrase from the legendary Texas Rangers, Moreno noted, “No one in the wrong can stop those in the right who just won’t quit.” He also cited the ongoing and successful efforts of the Office of International Affairs, Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice and Mexico’s Procuraduria General De La Republica (Office of the General Prosecutor of Mexico), both of which have worked in partnership for years with the Southern and Western Districts of Texas to achieve the extradition of Quintero to the United States and his successful prosecution.

Per the terms of the plea agreement filed of record today, which incorporates conditions of the extradition, the United States will recommend Quintero be sentenced to 222 months incarceration without parole at his sentencing scheduled for Oct. 5, 2011, at 9:30 a.m. Quintero-Payan has been in federal custody since his extradition and will remain in custody pending sentencing.

Assistant United States Attorney Charles Lewis of the Southern District of Texas prosecuted the Quintero-Payan case in the San Antonio Division of the Western District of Texas.

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