Las Cruces Man Pleads Guilty to Participating in Doña Ana County Cocaine Trafficking Ring
DEA-Led OCDETF Operation Targeted Cocaine Trafficking in Southern New Mexico
ALBUQUERQUE – Juan Velazquez, 26, of Las Cruces, N.M., pled guilty today in federal court in Las Cruces, N.M., to distributing cocaine and participating in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine in Doña Ana County, N.M.
Velazquez was arrested in Sept. 2016, on an indictment alleging cocaine trafficking charges. The 18-count indictment is the result of a six-month investigation, which was designated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) program, targeting a drug trafficking organization allegedly led by Joel Ibarra-Torres, 46, a Mexican national, that allegedly distributed cocaine in Doña Ana County.
The indictment alleged that Ibarra-Torres and seven co-conspirators, including several members of Ibarra-Torres’ family, participated in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy that existed from at least March 31, 2016 until Sept. 20, 2016. The indictment also alleged that Ibarra-Torres and two of his co-defendants participated in an international money laundering conspiracy. It also charged certain of the defendants with substantive cocaine trafficking offenses and with using telephones to facilitate their drug trafficking activity. The indictment included forfeiture provisions that seek the forfeiture of at least $31,620, constituting proceeds of the defendants’ alleged criminal activities, to the United States.
During today’s proceedings, Velazquez pled guilty to Count 1 of the indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and Counts 3, 5 and 8 of the indictment charging him with distributing cocaine. Velazquez admitted that from March 31, 2016 through Sept. 20, 2016, he agreed with his co-defendants to distribute cocaine. In entering the guilty plea, Velazquez admitted engaging in the following illegal conduct:
- On July 14, 2016, Velazquez arranged for a courier to pick up five ¼ kilogram packages of cocaine in El Paso, Texas, and deliver the drugs to him in Las Cruces;
- On July 25, 2016, Velazquez paid $10,000 to a source of supply in Mexico for cocaine he previously obtained from the source;
- On Aug. 25, 2016, Velasquez arranged for a courier to pick up six ¼ kilogram packages of cocaine in El Paso, and deliver the drugs to him in Las Cruces; and
- Velazquez distributed 250 gram quantities of cocaine to an individual working with law enforcement on the following three dates: June 8, 2016, July 14, 2016, and Aug. 25, 2016.
At sentencing, Velazquez faces a statutory mandatory minimum of five years and a maximum of 40 years in federal prison. He remains in custody pending a sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled.
On Dec. 20, 2016, Joel Ibarra, Jr., 21, of Sunland Park, N.M., pled guilty to Count 1 of the indictment charging him with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and Count 2 of the indictment charging him with money laundering. In entering the guilty plea, Ibarra admitted that from June 2016 through Sept. 20, 2016, he agreed with his co-defendants to distribute between 500 grams and 2 kilograms of cocaine which was smuggled into the United States from Mexico in ¼ kilogram packages and then delivered to other individuals. Ibarra further admitted that on Aug. 3, 2016, he transported $3,582 in drug proceeds through the Port of Entry in El Paso to deliver to the source of supply in Mexico. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Ibarra will be sentenced to 27 months in prison followed by a term of supervised release to be determined by the court. A sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled.
On Dec. 19, 2016, Gabriela Castro, 24, a legal permanent resident from El Paso, pled guilty to Count 1 of the indictment charging her with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. In entering the guilty plea, Castro admitted that on Aug. 26, 2016, she attempted to smuggle approximately 250 grams of cocaine into the United States from Mexico in exchange for payment. At sentencing, Castro faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. A sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled.
The remaining co-defendants, with the exception of Ibarra-Torres, who has yet to be arrested and is considered a fugitive, have entered pleas of not guilty pending trial. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The investigation leading to the indictment was conducted by the Las Cruces office of the DEA, the U.S. Border Patrol and the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Terri J. Abernathy and Sarah M. Davenport of the U.S. Attorney’s Las Cruces Branch office.