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Mexican Citizen Pleads Guilty to Role in Organization Responsible for Flying Hundreds of Kilograms of Cocaine to the U.S. and Laundering Money from its Sales

DEC 08 (HOUSTON) - A member of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization operating out of Mexico from 2002-2008 has been convicted, announced Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit, Houston Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Richard Garcia-Sanchez, 40, of Mexico City, Mexico, pleaded guilty today for his roles in these long-term drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracies.

At the hearing, Garcia-Sanchez admitted that between September 2002 and continuing until on or about May 29, 2008, he engaged in a variety of activities, to include transporting controlled substances and large amounts of U.S. currency which represented the proceeds of drug trafficking.

This case began in October 2002. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began an investigation into the activities of a drug trafficking and money laundering organization based in Mexico that smuggled multi-hundred kilogram loads of cocaine from Venezuela through Mexico for eventual distribution in the U.S. The organization used several private aircraft in order to transport large drug loads from Venezuela to Mexico, money from the sale of the drugs from the U.S. back to Mexico and money to Venezuela for the purchase of more narcotics. The organization relied on several experienced pilots in order to commit these offenses, including Garcia-Sanchez.    

Between September 2002 and on or about May 29, 2008, Garcia-Sanchez and his co-conspirators were involved in transporting numerous loads of cocaine from Venezuela through Mexico and other places, destined for the U.S. for further distribution. One included a 311-kilogram load which was lawfully seized by Jamaican law enforcement on Oct. 14, 2003, at an airport in Jamaica where the plane had stopped for refueling after leaving Venezuela.

Garcia-Sanchez and his co-conspirators were also involved in transporting drug trafficking proceeds to Mexico. Some of which also went to Venezuela in order to purchase additional drugs for the organization, including a large load of currency seized in Panama in November 2002. 

On or about Oct. 28, 2002, a co-conspirator attempted to fly one of the organization’s airplanes to Venezuela carrying more than $3 million in drug proceeds. The plane had mechanical problems, however, and had to make an emergency landing in Panama.  Shortly thereafter, Garcia-Sanchez flew from Mexico to Panama to attempt to help repair the airplane. However, he was unable to do so and left Panama to obtain the necessary parts with the intent to return.

After Garcia-Sanchez left, Panamanian officials became suspicious of the airplane and lawfully searched it, at which time they found and seized $3,151,000 in U.S. currency that was hidden on the plane. Another co-conspirator subsequently told law enforcement officers the money on the airplane belonged to the organization and was derived from the sale of drugs. He also told them it was to be utilized for the purchase of more drugs in Venezuela. The Panamanian officials then also seized the airplane.

District Judge Gray Miller, who accepted the plea today, has set sentencing for Feb. 27, 2015. At that time, he faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison and a possible $4 million fine for the drug offenses as well as a maximum 20 years and additional fines for money laundering.

This prosecution is the result of a multi-year Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation led by the DEA and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Arthur R. Jones and former AUSA Claude Hippard prosecuted the case.  

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