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Press Release

Guatemalan National is Extradited on International Cocaine Trafficking and Maritime Smuggling Charges

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Mokhtari (619) 546-8402

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – February 17, 2022

SAN DIEGO – Suspected drug trafficker Rafael Orlando Ramirez Barillas, a Guatemalan national who was extradited to the United States from Guatemala on Thursday, February 10, 2022 to face international cocaine trafficking and maritime smuggling charges in the Southern District of California, appeared in federal court today and was ordered detained pending trial.

Ramirez Barillas, aka “Thor,” is charged in an indictment stemming from a long-term joint investigation led by Homeland Security Investigations and the Drug Enforcement Administration in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego. 

Ramirez Barillas is charged with operating a conspiracy to distribute five kilograms and more of cocaine in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and elsewhere, knowing and intending that the cocaine would be unlawfully imported into the United States.  Ramirez Barillas is also charged with being in a conspiracy to distribute five kilograms and more of cocaine on board a vessel. 

Ramirez Barillas made his initial court appearance on Friday, February 11, 2022 in San Diego before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal.  This afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Skomal ordered Ramirez Barillas detained pending trial. 

According to court documents and statements made by prosecutors at today’s hearing, Ramirez Barillas was alleged to be the partner of convicted Guatemalan drug trafficker Luis Carlos Melgar-Morales, aka “Aquaman,” who admitted to distributing over 10,000 kilograms of cocaine during an approximately two-year conspiracy.  Ramirez Barillas was described as an organizer and leader in the conspiracy to distribute cocaine in Guatemala and several other South and Central American countries.  As part of the conspiracy, and as alleged in the indictment and set forth in other public documents, Ramirez Barillas and his co-conspirators coordinated the smuggling of multi-ton quantities of cocaine from South America to Guatemala with an ultimate destination of the United States. 

During the investigation, the United States Coast Guard made multiple seizures of cocaine from vessels on international waters that were linked to Ramirez Barillas and his co-conspirators.  According to the indictment, the conspiracy began on a date unknown and continued up to and including November 2018. 

On July 17, 2021, Ramirez Barillas was arrested in Guatemala pursuant to an extradition request from the United States. Guatemala subsequently granted his extradition, and on February 10, 2022, Ramirez Barillas was extradited to United States. 

“This office is committed to aggressively pursuing drug traffickers in Central America who use international waters as a corridor to smuggle cocaine to the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “This extradition marks the culmination of years of efforts by agents and prosecutors to keep those who flood the United States with cocaine accountable for their actions.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and law enforcement agencies for their excellent work on this case.

“This extradition demonstrates the need to continue to work together with our foreign partners to disrupt drug trafficking,” said Chad Plantz, Special Agent in Charge for HSI San Diego. “This effort also resulted in significant seizures of the transnational criminal organization’s narcotics, firearms, and illicit proceeds, and led to the identification of additional high-ranking members. HSI will remain committed in our investigative efforts to bring additional members of this organization to justice.”

“This case, including last week’s extradition, demonstrates the success DEA and our law enforcement partners have had targeting foreign drug sources of supply,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Shelly S. Howe. “DEA will continue to seize large quantities of drugs before they reach our shores and devastate our communities.  Our strong relationships with our foreign counterparts allow us to bring drug suppliers to justice in the United States.”

“This indictment resulted from our collaborative efforts to disrupt transnational criminal organizations and prevent illicit drugs from making their way to the United States,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. “I am grateful for the hard work of the dedicated women and men of the Department of Justice and the Southern District of California who built this case alongside Coast Guard ships and crews involved in several interdiction cases in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, dismantling smuggling organizations, putting smugglers behind bars and keeping drugs off our streets. I hope our Coast Guard crews conducting counterdrug patrols today in the Pacific Ocean see the effects of this monumental occasion. I cannot thank the Southern District of California enough for their efforts to ensure justice is served to those seeking to harm our country.”

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of Ramirez Barillas. 

This operation is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 


Case Number 18cr4696-DMS         

Rafael Orlando Ramirez Barillas                                           Age: 32            Guatemala City, Guatemala

   aka “Thor,” aka “Rafa”


International Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances – Title 21, U.S.C., Section 959, 960, 963
Criminal Forfeiture – Title 21, U.S.C., Section 853

Maximum Penalty: Life in prison and $10 million fine

Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine on Board a Vessel Subject to the Jurisdiction of the United States –
Title 46, U.S.C., Sections 70503, 70506(b)
Criminal Forfeiture – Title 46, U.S.C., Section 70507(a)

Maximum Penalty: Life in prison and $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

HSI Attaché Mexico City Mexico

Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs

Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations

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

Joint Task Force-Investigations (JTF-I)

Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S)

Updated February 17, 2022

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: CAS22-0217-Ramirez