News and Press Releases

Leader of Guatemalan Drug Trafficking Organization Indicted for Conspiring to Import and Distribute Heroin and Cocaine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 21, 2014

Human couriers used to smuggle drugs on commercial flights within food and drink containers

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A leader of a drug trafficking organization based in Guatemala, along with a U.S.-based associate, were indicted by a federal grand jury today for participating in a conspiracy to import and distribute multiple kilograms of heroin and cocaine into the United States.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Clark E. Settles, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations Washington (HSI), made the announcement.

Lelo Sandoval, 47, of Jalapa, Guatemala, and Cesar Duran, 55, of Chicago, Illinois, were indicted on four counts of conspiracy to import and distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and at least five kilograms of cocaine.  Sandoval and Duran each face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.

According to the indictment, from late 2009 until September 2013, Sandoval served as a leader of a drug trafficking organization in Guatemala that imported heroin and cocaine from Guatemala and Honduras into the United States through the use of human couriers.  The couriers often traveled on commercial airliners that landed in various U.S. airports, including Dulles, JFK and O’Hare, and they smuggled the drugs within their luggage in containers marked as containing food and drinks—for example, juice boxes, refried beans and powdered milk.  The couriers also drove vehicles carrying concealed heroin and cocaine over the U.S.-Mexico border, while other packages were delivered through the U.S. mail system.

After importation, the heroin and cocaine would be distributed and sold in the United States by members of the drug trafficking organization.  The indictment identifies ten occasions from late 2009 through March 2013 in which members of the conspiracy smuggled or attempted to smuggle at least 28 kilograms of heroin and 13 kilograms of cocaine.  In September 2013, Sandoval and Duran were arrested together in Guatemala while in possession of several kilograms of heroin.

This case was investigated by ICE-HSI, with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Customs and Border Protection.  Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine S. Ahn and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Fahey are prosecuting the case.

Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.

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.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:14-cr-289.

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