Sixteenth Member of Colombian Cocaine Trafficking Organization Pleads Guilty in Connection with Attempt to Import 7,000 Kilos of Cocaine
Drug traffickers used hidden compartments in trucks and shipping containers, bribed customs officials and worked with Mexican drug cartels
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Manuel Salas, 62, of Barranquilla, Colombia, pleaded guilty today to charges relating to his participation in a large-scale Colombian cocaine trafficking organization that bought, stored and transported several tons of cocaine for importation into the United States.
Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Derek S. Maltz, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Special Operations Division, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady. Salas is the sixteenth defendant to plead guilty in this case.
Salas was indicted on Aug. 24, 2011, by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine for unlawful importation into the United States, along with four counts of distributing five kilograms or more of cocaine for unlawful importation into the United States. Salas faces a maximum penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced on September, 19, 2014.
In a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, along with other court records, Salas admitted that he was part of a large-scale Colombian cocaine trafficking organization that purchased cocaine in Colombia for eventual sale in the United States. The group bought several tons of cocaine from a lab in Colombia’s interior. From there, the group controlled trucks with hidden compartments to transport the cocaine to Colombian ports, including Cartagena and Barranquilla, where the group controlled warehouses. In those warehouses, the cocaine was offloaded from the trucks and loaded into hidden compartments that members of the group constructed in 40-foot maritime shipping containers.
Once the cocaine shipments, consisting of 1,000 to 3,000 kilograms, were loaded into the hidden shipping compartments, those containers were taken to the port, where members of the conspiracy bribed customs officials to allow the containers to pass inspection. Other conspirators created shell companies in Colombia and Honduras, along with falsified export documents, to make the shipments appear legitimate. Once the cocaine arrived in Honduras, other members of the conspiracy worked with Mexican drug cartels to transport the cocaine over land to the United States, where it was sold for huge profits.
Law enforcement in Colombia seized approximately 7,000 kilograms of cocaine associated with this organization. Salas controlled a warehouse in Barranquilla and hired members to construct the hidden compartments and guard the warehouse while the cocaine was being loaded into the shipping containers.
This case was investigated by the DEA’s Special Operations Division, with assistance from the Colombian National Police and the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael P. Ben’Ary and Lynn E. Haaland are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.justice.gov/usao/vae. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov or on https://pcl.uscourts.gov.