8 sentenced as part of 'pre-eminent' cocaine trafficking ring in Waco area
Sentences were handed down Thursday in Waco’s federal court to eight of the 12 men and women who have pleaded guilty to operating an expansive drug-trafficking ring that brought $25 million worth of cocaine per month to Waco for about nine years, officials said.
“This was the pre-eminent cocaine-trafficking organization in our area,” said Steve Robertson, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Waco. “The fact that they were bringing that much here means there was a demand. If they can’t sell it, they’ll take it to Dallas or Houston or wherever. There was a market for it here.”
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. sentenced Dianna Balandrano Gonzalez, of McAllen, to 40 years in prison; Monica Haro, of Edinburg, to 15 years; Caesar Humberto Salinas to 15 years; Joseph Lopez, of Dallas, to 15 years; Jorge Vega, of Waco, to 11 years; Edward Vega, of Waco, to two years; Carlos Olvera, of Waco, to 17 years; and Bernadino Jiminez, of Waco, to five years.
Susana G. Rocha, of McAllen, was sentenced earlier this year to eight years in prison. Aaron Garza and Marcus Kirkpatrick, who also have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy, will be sentenced at a later date. Luis Castillo is being evaluated by mental health officials to determine whether he is competent to be sentenced.
Other identifying information about the defendants was not available Thursday.
All pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, Robertson said.
According to Michael Lemoine, special agent with the Department of the Treasury, Gonzalez was the leader of the drug-trafficking ring.
The cocaine is 90 percent pure coming from Mexico, Robertson said. When it crosses the border, it is mixed with a cutting agent such as baby powder or baking soda, and street value is about 45 percent pure, he said.
The drugs often were smuggled over the border with the help of young children in the car to appear less suspicious to agents, Robertson said.
“They don’t hesitate at all to bring their family members in as cover,” he said. “That’s what’s really sad. Then, when they all get taken down, you’re impacting the whole family.”
Various agencies, including the DEA, the Waco Police Department, McLennan County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety, were involved in the investigation.
The investigation also was conducted by the Waco Treasury Task Force, which is led by the Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation division and consists of members of the Irving and Lorena police departments, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office and the DEA, Lemoine said.
Agencies joined the investigation at various times and dissolved the ring through people being arrested and talking to officials about the trafficking, Robertson said.
“Down by the border, a seizure of 100 kilos of cocaine is pretty standard,” he said. “But here in McLennan County, you’re just not going to find that.”
By Erin Quinn Tribune-Herald staff writer
Friday, November 13, 2009
COMMENT: Every day looking at news stories I see ones like this- major players getting sentences the same, or sometimes more lenient, then the low level distributoes/dealers just trying to get by...