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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Washington

Friday, September 26, 2014

Leader of Cartel-Linked Drug and Weapons Trafficking Ring Sentenced to 27 Year Prison Term

U.S. Based Leader Of Cartel Trafficking Heroin And Meth

The U.S. based leader of a drug and gun trafficking organization with direct links to a violent Mexican drug cartel was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 27 years in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  CRISTIAN BERRELLEZA-VERDUZCO, 31, of Everett, Washington, pleaded guilty in April 2013 to Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances; Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering; Conspiracy to Interfere with Commerce by Robbery; Conspiracy to Possess Firearms in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime, and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime.  BERRELLEZA-VERDUZCO and his brother Victor were the U.S leaders of a large Mexico based drug and gun trafficking ring with ties to the violent Beltran-Leyva drug cartel.  The men’s father is the leader of the drug trafficking organization and remains a fugitive in Mexico.  At sentencing U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said all three of the BERRELLEZA-VERDUZCO brothers are imprisoned in the U.S., a reality that was “set in motion by their father.”

“This sentence helps protect us from a very dangerous man and organization.  This defendant raked in massive profits from the scourge of heroin addiction.  He and his family sought to control the entire supply chain, from growing the poppies, to manufacturing the heroin, to selling it in this District,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “And just as they moved their drugs north, they wanted to move high powered weapons back to Mexico to cause further cartel related violence.”

“From his base in an unassuming Snohomish County neighborhood, Berrelleza-Verduzco ran a multimillion dollar heroin and meth trafficking operation that took multiple federal, state and local agencies in three states to dismantle.” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Seattle. “He fed the destructive habit of Washington addicts and fueled Mexican cartel violence with drug money. Incarcerating Berrelleza-Verduzco and his co-conspirators is a significant victory for public safety, especially considering the massive increase in local teens dying of heroin overdoses in recent years.”

According to records filed in the case, CRISTIAN BERRELLEZA-VERDUZCO directed both the smuggling of meth and heroin from Mexico into the United States and in efforts to smuggle guns back to Mexico.  Phone calls recorded in the wire-tap investigation reveal he frequently threatened to harm or kill those whom he had felt had failed him.  BERRELLEZA-VERDUZCO was arrested in Arizona with firearms, including an AK-47 style assault weapon, in October of 2011.  He was prosecuted and deported by state authorities, but quickly returned to Washington to continue his gun and drug trafficking activities.

BERRELLEZA-VERDUZCO and 29 co-conspirators were arrested in March 2012, following a lengthy investigation.  During the investigation agents seized multiple kilos of heroin, pounds of methamphetamine, and more than a dozen firearms, including military-style assault rifles which were bound for cartel members in Mexico.  In all, 34 people were charged in the case.  Most have been sentenced, some to prison terms in excess of ten years.  One year ago, Victor Berrelleza-Verduzco was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and his brother Ivan Berrelleza-Verduzco was sentenced to seven years in prison.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. The case was investigated by the ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Lake Stevens Police Department, the Snohomish Police Department, Washington State Patrol, the Snohomish Regional Drug Task Force and the Seattle Police Department.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Vince Lombardi.

Updated March 20, 2015