Heads of Lopez Drug Trafficking Organization Plead Guilty
(LAREDO, TX) United States Attorney Michael Shelby announced that two brothers Noe and Simon Lopez, charged in a federal indictment in July of 2004 as the heads of a drug and money laundering organization pleaded guilty yesterday afternoon before the Honorable George P. Kazen in Laredo.
Noe and Simon Lopez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marihuana and in excess of 5 kilograms of cocaine, and conspiracy to launder money. In addition, the two brothers agreed to a joint and several money judgement of $15 million dollars, which according to the Government represents the amount of drug proceeds laundered by the Lopez drug trafficking organization.
During the hearing, the Government presented evidence which established that the conspiracy spanned over an eight year period beginning in 1996 and continuing through 2004. According to the Government's evidence, Noe and Simon Lopez were the heads of a drug and money laundering organization that was primarily based out of Laredo, Texas, and largely operated in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. The evidence presented further established that during the course of the conspiracy Noe and Simon Lopez shipped in excess of 150 kilograms of cocaine and in excess of 30,000 kilograms of marihuana from the Texas to Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee .
According to the Government's evidence Noe Lopez and Simon Lopez participated in laundering as much as $15 million dollars in drug proceeds. The bulk cash was often transported from Georgia to Laredo, hidden within the walls of igloo ice chests. The laundering of drug proceeds took various forms to include, wiring money via western union, bulk shipment of money in vehicles, use of drug proceeds to pay for drug debts, airline tickets, leases on vehicles, rent on apartments, homes and warehouses, hotels and cellular telephones used to promote the carrying on of the Lopez drug trafficking activities.
Noe and Simon Lopez were the main targets of a four year long Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The investigation was dubbed "Operation Igloo" due to the organizations repeated use of Igloo ice chests to hide hundreds of thousands of drug proceeds.
In July 2004, a federal grand jury in Laredo returned an indictment charging Noe and Simon Lopez along with 25 of their criminal associates in a twelve-count indictment for their role in a drug and money laundering criminal enterprise.
Immediately following the indictment, Simon Lopez and twenty two others were rounded up with the assistance of multi law enforcement agencies to include DEA, IRS, ICE, U.S. Marshals, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Public Safety, and the Laredo Police Department. Noe Lopez remained a fugitive until his arrest in November 2004 when he was located by DEA Atlanta agents hiding at an Atlanta residence. Noe Lopez had considerably changed his appearance, having dyed his hair blond and assumed a false identity.
A total of 24 of the twenty seven persons charged in the July 2004 indictment are now in custody. The three remaining fugitives are Jesus Moreno, Juan Erasmo Rodriguez and Jose Felix Fierro, a/k/a "El Gallo".
The indictment charged the alleged members of this drug and money laundering organization with various federal violations, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute large kilograms quantities of marihuana and cocaine, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and numerous other controlled substances violations. The alleged illegal conducted occurred during an eight- year period beginning in 1996.
Other co-conspirators who have pleaded guilty to various counts of drug and money laundering conspiracy and drug violations include, Francisco Antonio Cansino, Sergio Barrgan, Gerardo Garza a/k/a "Jerry", Jesus Del Angel Saldivar a/k/a "Chuy", Jose Angel Solis, Noe Lopez, Jr. , Jorge Ibarra a/k/a "El Morro", Andrew Rubalcaba, Leon Rubalcaba, David Vasquez, Juan Ibarra, Ricardo Villarreal, Juan Antonio Trevino, Juan Montalvo Flores, Arturo Vidales and Jorge Vidales. Prior to the return of this indictment as many as eight other co-conspirators also pleaded guilty in separate indictments relating to this investigation. Noe and Simon Lopez's pleas mark a total of 18 pleas of guilty taken relating to this indictment. Overall the investigation has resulted in a total of 26 convictions, the seizure of several million dollars cash and multi ton seizures of marihuana in the Texas and Georgia. Other alleged co-conspirators who are pending trial are Michael Lafayette Cayruth, George Paul Corosine a/k/a "DJ G-O", Robert Leonard Mcdow a/k/a "Chavez" of the Atlanta Georgia area and Eleuterio Liendo a/k/a "Tello" and Adriana Cortez of Laredo.
This case is part of a four year OCDETF investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The case is being be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mary Lou Castiilo.