Guatemalan Presidential Candidate Charged With Conspiring To Import Cocaine Into The United States And Related Firearms Offense
Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana Tried to Solicit Campaign Funding from Drug Cartels in Exchange for Guatemalan Government Support for Cocaine Shipments to the United States
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Adolphus P. Wright, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today that Guatemalan presidential candidate MARIO AMILCAR ESTRADA ORELLANA (“ESTRADA”) and JUAN PABLO GONZALEZ MAYORGA (“GONZALEZ”) have been charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and a related weapons offense of conspiring to use and possess machineguns. ESTRADA and GONZALEZ were arrested earlier today in Miami, Florida, and will appear tomorrow before United States Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman in Miami federal court.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Estrada and Gonzalez conspired to solicit Sinaloa Cartel money to finance a corrupt scheme to elect Estrada president of Guatemala. In return, the two allegedly promised to assist the cartel in using Guatemalan ports and airports to export tons of cocaine into the U.S. As further alleged, Estrada and Gonzalez attempted to arrange the assassinations of political rivals. Thanks to the DEA, Estrada stands no chance of election in Guatemala, but he and Gonzalez face justice in the United States.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Adolphus P. Wright said: “The DEA Miami Field Division is very happy with the arrests of Mario Estrada Orellana and Juan Gonzalez Mayorga. Today’s action is the direct result of the strong partnership with our Guatemalan counterparts. Together with our international law enforcement partners, we will continue our efforts to keep illegal drug trafficking from corrupting the just political systems of our Central and South American neighbors, as we also endeavor to prevent such activity from harming the United States.”
As alleged in the Complaint unsealed today in federal court:
Since in or about December 2018, the DEA has been investigating several individuals (the “Estrada Conspiracy”) who attempted to solicit funding from international drug cartels to support ESTRADA’s presidential campaign (the “Estrada Campaign”). During certain of these negotiations, members of the Estrada Conspiracy, including ESTRADA and GONZALEZ, interacted with purported members and associates of the Sinaloa Cartel – a powerful international drug-trafficking organization based in Mexico – who were, in fact, confidential sources (the “CSes”) acting at the DEA’s direction.
During the course of these meetings and other communications, some of which were video and audio recorded, ESTRADA and GONZALEZ requested millions of dollars in drug proceeds from the Sinaloa Cartel to support the Estrada Campaign. In exchange for financial support from the Sinaloa Cartel, ESTRADA and GONZALEZ agreed that if ESTRADA were elected president of Guatemala, ESTRADA would provide Guatemalan state-sponsored support to the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking activities. Among other things, ESTRADA and GONZALEZ agreed to provide the Sinaloa Cartel with unfettered access to Guatemalan airports and maritime shipping locations so that the cartel could transport ton quantities of cocaine through Guatemala and ultimately into the United States. ESTRADA also offered to appoint members of the Sinaloa Cartel to high-ranking government positions in Guatemala so that the CSes would be positioned to advance the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking activities.
ESTRADA and GONZALEZ also directed the CSes to hire hitmen to assassinate political rivals to ensure that ESTRADA was elected president of Guatemala. In particular, ESTRADA and GONZALEZ identified specific targets by name and agreed to provide the hitmen with firearms, including AK-47s, to carry out the murders.
Origins of the Estrada Conspiracy
On or about January 6, 2019, one of the CSes (“CS-1”) met with GONZALEZ at his office in the vicinity of Guatemala City, Guatemala (the “January 6 Meeting”). During the January 6 Meeting, GONZALEZ explained to CS-1, in substance and in part, that GONZALEZ was an active member of a political party in Guatemala (“Party-1”), and that Party-1’s presidential candidate was ESTRADA. GONZALEZ told CS-1 that the Estrada Campaign needed drug cartel funding to compete in the upcoming presidential election, and he asked if CS-1 knew of any drug cartels that would be interested in providing such funding. GONZALEZ also stated that ESTRADA, if elected president of Guatemala, would use various government agencies to support the cartel’s drug trafficking activities in Guatemala. For example, GONZALEZ told CS-1 that, if a drug cartel provided funding to the Estrada Campaign and ESTRADA won, the Cartel would have direct influence on the appointed secretaries of the Interior, which oversees the police, and Defense, which oversees the military.
The next day, CS-1 met with GONZALEZ and ESTRADA in the vicinity of Guatemala City (the “January 10 Meeting”). During the January 10 Meeting, CS-1 told ESTRADA that CS-1’s contacts in the Sinaloa Cartel could provide funding, but that the cartel had concerns about whether ESTRADA could provide the cartel with access to the Government of Guatemala. ESTRADA responded that, if elected president, ESTRADA would appoint members of the Sinaloa Cartel to the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and to positions controlling Guatemala’s seaports and airports. ESTRADA also asked that CS-1 provide the names of three potential candidates for each position so ESTRADA could choose between them.
The Defendants Meet Purported Sinaloa Cartel Representative CS-2
On or about February 7, 2019, GONZALEZ met with CS-1 and a second confidential source involved in this investigation (“CS-2”) in the vicinity of Guatemala City (the “February 7 Meeting”). The February 7 Meeting was audio and video recorded. During the February 7 Meeting, GONZALEZ asked, in substance and in part, whether CS-1 and CS-2 could assassinate certain other political rivals who were threats to win the election. GONZALEZ stated that it “wouldn’t be difficult” to kill a particular candidate because the candidate was “hated,” but cautioned that another candidate was “well protected.” GONZALEZ also stated that the Estrada Campaign “would pay you to do it” if the CSes carried out the requested murders.
The following day, on or about February 8, 2019, ESTRADA and GONZALEZ met with CS-1 and CS-2 in the vicinity of Guatemala City (the “February 8 Meeting”). This meeting was audio and video recorded. During the February 8 Meeting, ESTRADA told CS-1 and CS-2 that he could win the election if the Sinaloa Cartel provided the Estrada Campaign with approximately 10 to 12 million U.S. dollars. ESTRADA explained that he needed to deliver a sizeable amount of money to each of the 22 districts in Guatemala so that he could obtain the necessary votes in each district and that he was planning to hire an individual for approximately $2 million to help build the Estrada Campaign’s online presence.
CS-2 stated that, in exchange for the drug money, CS-2 wanted ESTRADA to help the Sinaloa Cartel transport cocaine through airports in Guatemala. CS-2 estimated that the Sinaloa Cartel would send approximately six cocaine-laden airplanes per month through Guatemala, each of which would carry multiple tons of cocaine, and that CS-2 would pay ESTRADA 10 percent of the approximate value of cocaine on each plane. ESTRADA agreed to assist the Sinaloa Cartel’s activities in exchange for campaign financing as proposed by CS-2. GONZALEZ and ESTRADA also again discussed assassinating political rivals, and ESTRADA provided CS-2 with the names of two individuals who were potential targets. ESTRADA also identified one individual to target first, and he noted that this assassination would be easy to complete because the target had many enemies in Guatemala.
February 2019 Meetings in Florida and Guatemala
On or about February 14, 2019, GONZALEZ met with CS-2 and an undercover officer (“UC-1”) in an undercover DEA warehouse (the “Warehouse”) in Florida (the “February 14 Meeting”). This meeting was audio and video recorded. During the February 14 Meeting, CS-2 introduced UC-1 to GONZALEZ as a hitman who was available for hire to carry out the assassinations proposed by GONZALEZ and ESTRADA.
GONZALEZ then discussed with CS-2 and UC-1, in substance and in part, the Estrada Campaign’s desire to assassinate certain political rivals. GONZALEZ identified the person he thought was easiest “to take out,” and stated that he wanted it done “as fast as possible.” GONZALEZ also promised to provide CS-2 and UC-1 with more information on their initial targets, and GONZALEZ told them that “we want to see the public reaction after the first two hits” before going forward with the others. GONZALEZ also told them that he could provide “lots of AK-47s” to carry out the job, and when UC-1 specified that he needed “3 AK-47s and 2 pistols,” GONZALEZ replied that “Mario [ESTRADA] will have everything ready for you.”
During the meeting, CS-2 and UC-1 also showed GONZALEZ approximately $5 million in supposed drug proceeds for the Estrada Campaign. GONZALEZ then placed a video call to ESTRADA. During that call, GONZALEZ handed the phone to CS-2, and CS-2 used GONZALEZ’s phone to show ESTRADA the Warehouse and purported bulk currency in various locations in the Warehouse.
On or about February 27, 2019, ESTRADA met with CS-1 and CS-2 on an undercover DEA yacht (the “UC Yacht”) in the vicinity of Miami, Florida (the “February 27 Meeting”). This meeting was audio and video recorded. During the February 27 Meeting, CS-2 and ESTRADA discussed, among other things, their agreement concerning how ESTRADA would support the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking if ESTRADA were elected president. ESTRADA stated, in substance and in part, that he was “convince[d] that I’m going to win [the election]” and that after he won, ESTRADA would support the cartel’s drug trafficking activities in Guatemala. In particular, ESTRADA agreed to accept the Sinaloa Cartel’s cocaine-laden planes at airports and ports in Guatemala. ESTRADA also agreed to appoint cartel members to key government positions. ESTRADA also told CS-2 that he no longer wanted CS-2 and UC-1 to move forward with the proposed assassinations. ESTRADA explained that someone else was going to assassinate one of the potential targets, and ESTRADA thought it would bring too many problems if they proceeded with the other assassinations.
March 2019 Meetings in Florida and Guatemala
On or about March 4, 2019, ESTRADA met with another individual (“CC-1”) and CS-1 at ESTRADA’s office in the vicinity of Guatemala City (the “March 4 Meeting”). This meeting was audio recorded. During the March 4 Meeting, ESTRADA stated, in substance and in part, that the Estrada Campaign urgently needed funds from the Sinaloa Cartel to pay its expenses. ESTRADA, CC-1, and CS-1 discussed how they could deliver the Cartel’s money to the Estrada Campaign in Guatemala. ESTRADA suggested that they use the UC Yacht to transport ESTRADA’s money. ESTRADA then took out a map, and demonstrated how the UC Yacht could travel from Miami, through Cuba, before arriving in Guatemala. CC-1 questioned whether law enforcement would detect the UC Yacht, and ESTRADA responded that those risks were mitigated by the fact that the UC Yacht was a luxury yacht, flying the American flag, and sailed by American citizens. ESTRADA further explained that it might be easier to buy a yacht than to pay the transportation fees they had been discussing.
On or about March 5, 2019, ESTRADA met again with CC-1 and CS-1 at ESTRADA’s office (the “March 5 Meeting”). This meeting was audio recorded. During the March 5 Meeting, ESTRADA stated, in substance and in part, that he was arranging for another crew to get involved to bring the balance of the money from the Sinaloa Cartel to Guatemala because ESTRADA had run out of money himself and his campaign was stalling. ESTRADA also stated that he was separately working with a drug trafficker based in Guatemala, who was also supporting ESTRADA’s bid for president. ESTRADA also told CS-1 that he heard that people from another drug cartel wanted to provide ESTRADA with funding as well.
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The Complaint charges ESTRADA, 58, and GONZALEZ, 50, in two counts: (1) conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and (2) conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices during, and to possess machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of, the cocaine-importation conspiracy. If convicted, ESTRADA and GONZALEZ each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment and a maximum term of life imprisonment on Count One, and a maximum term of life imprisonment on Count Two.
The potential mandatory minimum and maximum sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Miami Field Office and its Guatemala Country Office, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mathew Laroche and Jason A. Richman are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.