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Press Release

Mario Hernandez Velazquez Sentenced To Serve 65 Years In Prison On Cocaine And Firearms Convictions

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Tennessee

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – Mario Hernandez Velazquez, 45, of Johnson City, Tenn., was sentenced on Feb. 7, 2013, by the Honorable Leon Jordan, U. S. District Court Judge, to serve 65 years in federal prison.

Velazquez was convicted at trial inAugust 2012, of distribution and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, being an illegal immigrant in the United States in possession of a firearm and ammunition, using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. As a result of these convictions, Velazquez was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence of 65 years in federal prison. There is no parole in the federal system.

Velazquez was one of 36 individuals indicted in October 2010 for his participation in a large scale cocaine trafficking organization which was responsible for the distribution of several kilograms of cocaine per month in the Tri-Cities area over an extended period of time.

Velazquez sold cocaine or assisted in the sale of cocaine to a confidential informant working on the behalf of law enforcement on multiple occasions in 2010. During these undercover transactions, Velazquez admitted he was the firearms dealer for the criminal organization and was always armed. In one transaction, Velazquez told the individual that someone broke into his residence and stole two kilograms of cocaine. As a result, he routinely packed his cocaine and guns in a suitcase and took it with him whenever he left home. In a subsequent transaction, Velazquez told the individual that if someone came to rob him again, he would “blow them to hell,” and “not many idiots are going to withstand two or three bullets.”

Overall, law enforcement agents made over 100 cocaine buys from the various defendants in this conspiracy. The investigation concluded with the execution of 13 search warrants at various locations in Johnson City, Kingsport, and Knoxville, Tennessee. During these searches, agents found approximately 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, 200 pounds of marijuana, and a significant number of firearms and ammunition.

Tomas Estrada Sarabia, Antonio Herrera, Manuel Burelo and Andres Linares were previously sentenced to 480 months, 211 months, 134 months and 124 months respectively. Luciano Hernandez Valiente, Amansio Garcia Juarez, and Adan Fernandez were all previously sentenced to 120 months each.

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, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, all of which provided invaluable assistance during the course of the investigation. Assistant U. S. Attorneys Wayne Taylor and Christian Lampe represented the United States.

U.S. Attorney William C. Killian stated, “This illegal drug distribution organization was one of the worst. They distributed hundreds of pounds of cocaine, using weapons to protect their drugs, and involved many others in the conspiracy. Our prosecutors and the federal and state law enforcement agencies working on this case did a tremendous job of obtaining and presenting the evidence in this case. We were able to show the scope of the drug distribution activities of the organization, including the use and threatened use of firearms to protect their illegal distribution of drugs. I want to thank all those involved in bringing Mr. Velazquez to justice.”

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.

Updated March 18, 2015