Operation Splinter Cell: Major Guatemalan
May 08 - (Miami, FL) - Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division, Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Joseph Evans, Regional Director for the DEA North and Central Americas Regions in Mexico, announce that, after a nine-day trial, a Miami jury has convicted Guatemalan drug kingpin Mario Ponce-Rodriguez on charges of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, knowing that it would be unlawfully imported into the United States, in violation of Title 21, U.S.C., Sections 959 and 963.
After his conviction, Ponce stipulated to the entry of an $8.8 million money judgment, which will be imposed at sentencing. Sentencing has been scheduled for August 21, 2012 before U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks. At sentencing, the defendant faces a statutory maximum sentence of up to life in prison.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Mark R. Trouville stated, “Guatemala and Honduras have emerged as crucial conduits for drug traffickers to move cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and into the United States. The arrest and conviction of drug Kingpins such as Mario Ponce-Rodriguez highlight DEA’s commitment to dismantling this bridge.”
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Defendant Ponce was one of the most prolific Central American drug traffickers, who was responsible for receiving bulk quantities of cocaine in Hondurans and Guatemala for ultimate distribution in the United States. Thanks to the outstanding cooperation from our Guatemalan and Honduran law enforcement partners, we are able to bring these international narco-traffickers to justice.”
According to the evidence presented at trial, on a series of occasions, Ponce received between 500 and 2000 kilograms of cocaine from planes landing at clandestine Guatemalan airstrips, and then directed others to transport the cocaine to a location where it was concealed until shipment to Mexico and ultimately the United States. Testimony at trial described negotiations between Ponce and major Colombian drug traffickers regarding two separate 1000 kilogram cocaine loads from South America to Honduras and Guatemala. The evidence established that Ponce would split his investment in cocaine loads equally with the traffickers who shipped the cocaine to him. Ponce would charge a fee for receiving the cocaine in Honduras that would be used, in part, to bribe officials to facilitate the load’s further distribution. Furthermore, the evidence disclosed that Ponce arranged for the construction of a laboratory to process distributable quantities of cocaine on one of his vast Guatemalan estates, secured by a large cadre of armed bodyguards. At this estate, he also maintained clandestine airstrips.
During the trial, witnesses also testified that Ponce had a helicopter and pilots at his disposal to transport drugs into Mexico. Further evidence revealed that on May 1, 2011, Ponce and the helicopter pilot made unauthorized stops to pick up and drop off a known drug trafficker who possessed a firearm and an expired weapons permit. This led to Ponce’s detention by Honduran authorities, despite Ponce’s attempt to bribe the Honduran prosecutor assigned to Ponce’s case. Ponce was ultimately extradited to the United States from Honduras to face the charge underlying the conviction obtained today in Miami.
This prosecution was part of Operation Splinter Cell, which is a result of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The OCDETF mission is to identify, investigate, and prosecute high level members of drug trafficking enterprises, bringing together the combined expertise and unique abilities of federal, state and local law enforcement.Mr. Ferrer thanked DEA Miami Field Division for their work on this case. Mr. Ferrer also thanked our international law enforcement partners in Honduras and Guatemala for their outstanding cooperation during this investigation.