Illinois Man Sentenced to 21 Years in Prison for Conspiracy to Distribute Meth
PEORIA, Ill. – Todd C. Smith, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-Chicago Field Division, and U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Harris for the Central District of Illinois announced that Juan Esquivel Bernal, 54, of Atlanta, Illinois, was sentenced Aug. 7 to 21 years imprisonment for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of actual methamphetamine. Imprisonment will be followed by five years of supervised release.
At the sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge James E. Shadid, the United States presented evidence that between February 2019 and May 2022, Bernal operated as the leader of a methamphetamine distribution group in the Central District of Illinois. He orchestrated shipments of methamphetamine directly from Mexico to his farm in Atlanta, Illinois, and used the farm to store large amounts of the drug. Bernal supplied methamphetamine to numerous other distributors. Between June 2021 and April 2022, the DEA conducted 13 controlled buys from the distributors working for Bernal, for a total of more than three kilograms of methamphetamine. Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Bernal’s farm in May of 2022, where they found firearms, digital scales, drug paraphernalia and another approximately five kilograms of methamphetamine, for a total of more than eight kilograms of highly pure methamphetamine. The investigation revealed that Bernal possessed firearms and threatened the lives of co-conspirators and their families to keep them from withdrawing from his drug distribution conspiracy.
Bernal and four co-defendants were indicted in May 2022. Bernal entered into a plea agreement in January 2023. He has remained in the custody of the United States Marshals Service since his arrest.
The statutory penalties for conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute actual methamphetamine are 10 years to life, followed by five years to life of supervised release.
Three of the four other co-defendants have either been sentenced or await sentencing:
- Edgar Daniel Perez-Hernandez pleaded guilty and was sentenced in July 2023 to 48 months.
- Maria Guadalupe Flores-Cano, a.k.a. “Lupita,” pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on Sept. 13, 2023.
- Juan Carlos Figueroa-Ramirez, a.k.a. “Max,” pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on Nov. 15, 2023.
- Edgar J. Tello, was indicted in May 2022, and is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on Oct.11, 2023.
Members of the public are reminded that an indictment is merely an accusation; the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
The DEA led the investigation, assisted by the Pekin Police Department; Peoria Police Department; Illinois State Police; Internal Revenue Service; Department of Homeland Security Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Peoria Multi-County Enforcement Group; Central Illinois Enforcement Group; Rock County, Wisconsin Sheriff’s Office; United States Postal Service; United States Marshals Service; National Guard Counter Drug; DCI Digital Evidence Recovery; and the Logan County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Hollingshead-Cook and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine G. Legge represented the United States in the prosecution, with assistance of the Tazewell and Fulton County State’s Attorney’s Offices.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.