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Press Release

Guatemalan Leader of Multi-Ton Cocaine Trafficking Organization Sentenced to Almost 22 Years in Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California
Media Relations Director Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726

SAN DIEGO – Josue Adan Lemus-Lara, aka “Fenix,” was sentenced in federal court today to 260 months in prison. His sentence follows his conviction after a week-long jury trial in November 2023 where he was convicted on all charges in a maritime cocaine trafficking conspiracy.  

During a multi-year wiretap investigation led by agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Josue Lemus-Lara and his brother and co-conspirator, Willian Lemus-Lara, aka “Humilde,” were identified as leaders of a transnational criminal organization. The organization moved multi-ton quantities of cocaine at sea from South America to Guatemala and ultimately over land to Mexican counterparts, including members of the Sinaloa Cartel, for importation to the United States.

At trial, prosecutors presented evidence from 13 rounds of court-authorized wiretaps demonstrating that in 2017 Josue Lemus-Lara traveled from Guatemala to Colombia to oversee the Lemus-Lara Organization’s cocaine trafficking operation and to establish new cocaine supply lines.  As Josue Lemus-Lara told a co-conspirator, “We either make money or we get thrown in jail or we get killed.”  

cocaine packages in fuel cans
In January 2018, U.S. Coast Guard officers seized a vessel sent by the
organization with cocaine concealed within fuel barrels.

Prosecutors presented evidence at trial showing Lemus-Lara’s role as head of South American operations for the organization, including extensive wiretap transcripts, pictures Lemus-Lara sent of bespoke cocaine brands the group was procuring, and over a dozen photos of a cocaine laboratory in the Ecuadorian jungle. As prosecutors outlined at trial, in just a five-day span in May 2017, the organization dispatched four vessels, each carrying over 750 kilograms of cocaine from South America to Guatemala. Interdiction efforts by the United States Coast Guard stymied two of those loads, including 781-kilograms seized from the vessel below.

750 kilos of cocaine seized
drug transport vessel at sea

Josue Lemus-Lara, a Guatemalan national, was initially apprehended by Colombian authorities in February 2019. He was extradited to the United States from Colombia on December 2, 2020, upon request by the United States government.

This was a “highly sophisticated” and “spectacular conspiracy in its scope and depth,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw. “It’s hard to put into words how sophisticated and involved it was.”  

“This prosecution sends a shot across the bow to maritime traffickers moving narcotics across the Americas and into the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “Coordinated efforts of U.S. government agencies continue to identify, dismantle, and prosecute these operators inside our borders and beyond.”

“This significant sentencing reflects HSI, the United States Attorney’s Office, and our partner law enforcement agencies’ commitment to holding international drug traffickers responsible for their illicit activity,” said Chad Plantz, special agent in charge for HSI San Diego. “This complex multi-year investigation demonstrates HSI’s ability to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations and our commitment to protecting our communities and the people of the United States of America.”

“Drug traffickers drive addiction and destroy communities,” said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Paul Abosamra. “As such, the DEA and its partners will continue to pursue these traffickers in every corner of the globe and bring them to justice.”

“The members of the U.S. Coast Guard remain dedicated to helping dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that continue to threaten the lives within our community and country,” said Rear Admiral Andrew Sugimoto, commander, Coast Guard District 11. “As a service, we will continue to work with our international, federal and local partners to put an end to their illegal and dangerous operations and ensure these individuals are held accountable.”

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Kevin Mokhtari and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison B. Murray.

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 18cr0390-DMS                                             

Josue Adan Lemus-Lara                                 Age: 39                                   Esquipulas, Guatemala



Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Cocaine on Board a Vessel – Title 46, U.S.C., Sections 70503 and 70506(b)

Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine Intended for Unlawful Importation into the United States – Title 21, U.S.C., Sections 959, 960 and 963

Maximum Penalties: Life in prison; $10 million fine


Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)

Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

U.S. Coast Guard

HSI Attaché Guatemala City, Guatemala

Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations

Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs

Department of Justice, Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF)

Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S)


Media Relations Director Kelly Thornton (619) 546-9726 or

Updated February 9, 2024

Press Release Number: CAS24-0209-Lemus-Lara