Trial underway for reputed Mexican cartel member

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2014 5:12 PM

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Secret video and audio recordings will show a member of a violent Mexican drug cartel conspiring with fellow gang members and undercover FBI agents to expand the gang's cocaine empire into the United States and Europe, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, who prosecutors said is part of the Sinaloa cartel, is charged with conspiracy to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of cocaine plus heroin and methamphetamine. His trial opened in U.S. District Court in New Hampshire Tuesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Feith said Valenzuela and other members of the cartel met over the course of three years with undercover agents who portrayed themselves as members of an organized crime ring that wanted to move tons of cocaine into the U.S. and Europe.

Two others arrested with Valenzuela in 2012 have pleaded guilty to working with the Sinaloa cartel. One of them, Jesus Gutierrez-Guzman, is a cousin of the cartel's notorious leader, Joaquin Guzman, known as "El Chapo." Joaquin Guzman escaped prison in 2001 and ran the enterprise from a series of hideouts and safe houses across Mexico, earning billions of dollars moving tons of cocaine and other drugs to the United States, prosecutors have said. He has been indicted in numerous states besides New Hampshire but it is unclear if he will be extradited.

Feith said that during the meetings, which occurred in New Castle, New Hampshire, Madrid, the Virgin Islands, Miami and elsewhere, the conspirators and undercover agents at first discussed shipments of 1,000 kilos of cocaine with one of the cartel members promising they could deliver 20 tons.

Following three "test loads" in which the cartel sent pineapples to make sure they weren't being set up by law enforcement, cartel members said they would ship a fourth test but the FBI agents said enough was enough and that it was time to ship the drugs, Feith said. A shipment of 346 kilos was shipped to Spain where the conspirators were arrested in August 2012.

Feith on Tuesday picked up a pink-wrapped kilo of cocaine and waved it in front of the jury of nine women and five men. He said the evidence will show Valenzuela willingly agreed to enter the conspiracy to distribute drugs.

Valenzuela's lawyers reserved their right to make an opening statement later.

Before the trial started, both sides acknowledged that Valenzuela had turned down a plea agreement that would have gotten him 10 to 20 years in prison, instead of the 10 years to life he faces at trial.

Also arrested with Valenzuela and Gutierrez-Guzman was Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela, no relationship to Rafael Valenzuela, who has pleaded guilty. Another man, Jesus Soto, pleaded guilty last month in a separate, but related, case.