News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

“Lieutenant” Of Colombian Drug Cartel Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison

Defendant Conspired with FARC Connected Cartel to Smuggle 20 Tons of Cocaine

January 9, 2012

            The third and final defendant convicted of a 20 ton cocaine smuggling scheme tied to a Colombian drug cartel was sentenced today to thirty years in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  HECTOR FABIO ZAPATA ALVARES, a/k/a “Hector Fabio Zapata,” 31, is a citizen of Colombia who will likely be deported following his prison term.  ZAPATA ALVARES was convicted of drug trafficking and money laundering charges following a two week jury trial in May 2011.  At today’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart said ZAPATA ALVARES was a “lieutenant with management authority in the drug trafficking organization…. If this had been a successful venture, there would have been a substantial amount of cocaine arriving in the U.S.”

            “The scope and reach of these crimes is staggering,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “These defendants thought geography and violence made them untouchable.  They were wrong thanks to the courageous and dedicated work of the Drug Enforcement Administration agents.”

“Justice was served to this narco-terrorist who orchestrated the delivery of multi-tons of cocaine from the jungles of Colombia into our American neighborhoods,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Matthew G. Barnes.  “This investigation signifies DEA’s continuing effort with law enforcement across the globe to combat drug trafficking at the highest levels and keep our communities safe.”

            Two other conspirators have already been sentenced.  In September 2011, the leader of the conspiracy, Nivaldo Riascos Renteria, 41, was sentenced to 34 years in prison.  The transportation broker for the conspiracy, Miguel Antonio Jimenez Torres, a/k/a “Miguel Angel Jimenez,” 40, was sentenced to just over 28 years in prison.

            Testimony at trial revealed that the Riascos organization had a contract to acquire 70 tons of cocaine from the paramilitary group known as FARC -- the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.  The FARC controls cocaine production in South America, which is the only region in the world where cocaine is produced, and uses the proceeds of cocaine trafficking to finance their terrorist activity.

In 2007, an undercover DEA agent posed as a shipping executive with offices located in Seattle, Washington, Miami, Florida and Vancouver, Canada.  Jimenez, ZAPATA, Riascos and others met with the undercover agent and other confidential sources in Panama and Ecuador to arrange the transport of ten tons of cocaine.  Specifically, the defendants negotiated with the undercover agent to hide their cocaine in ballast tanks on the vessels, which are located underneath the vessel’s cargo tanks, and not readily accessible to law enforcement that may attempt to inspect the vessel’s cargo.  The conspirators agreed to pay the undercover agent $300 per kilogram of cocaine that was transported, and then wired more than $491,000 from Mexico as a down payment for transporting 10 tons of cocaine from the coast of Ecuador to Mexico.  During the negotiations, members of the organization inspected additional vessels to transport a second ten-ton load of cocaine, which was to occur immediately after the completion of the first drug transportation contract.  The twenty tons of cocaine that the Riascos organization sought to transport was worth more than a half a billion dollars.  As part of the negotiations, the Riascos drug trafficking organization provided the undercover agent nautical coordinates where the cocaine was to be transferred to their Mexican counterparts, off the coast of Mexico.  These coordinates corresponded to a geographical area controlled by the Beltran-Leyva drug trafficking organization, which is known by Mexican law enforcement to distribute ton quantities of cocaine into the United States through the southwest border between Mexico and the United States. 

            In early 2008, the Colombian army raided a FARC campsite located in Ecuador, and the FARC leader Raul Reyes was killed.  Testimony at trial revealed that the Riascos drug trafficking organization had members at the FARC campsite days before the raid.  The Riascos drug trafficking organization told the undercover agent that as a result of this military incursion, the transportation of cocaine would be postponed.  The United States government then proceeded with seeking the extradition of the five individuals charged in the conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine.

Two of five people indicted in the cocaine trafficking conspiracy were killed prior to the arrest of the defendants in Colombia.  Jimenez, ZAPATA, and Riascos were taken into custody in Colombia in February 2009, and were extradited to the U.S. in 2010 and early 2011.

            In asking for a thirty year sentence prosecutors wrote to the court, “the defendant participated in an international conspiracy to distribute over 20 tons of cocaine destined for the United States. These 20 tons conservatively represented 20 million user doses of cocaine, worth more than 600 million dollars. The financial wealth of drug traffickers in South America allows these individuals to be armed in a magnitude comparable to many national armies. As demonstrated in the present case, it took the assets of the Colombian army to confront the FARC in an effort to dismantle their illegal activity.”

            The investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and was financed fully by the money the drug cartel sent to the U.S. as a down payment for the shipping.  This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.

            The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Lisca Borichewski and Carl Blackstone.

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