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Head of drug and gun trafficking group sentenced

September 27, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) — The head of a drug and gun trafficking organization with direct links to a violent Mexican drug cartel has been sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.

Cristian Berrelleza-Verduzco, 31, and his brother Victor were the U.S. leaders of a large Mexico-based crime ring that had ties to the Beltran-Leyva drug cartel, according to U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan. Their father, the alleged leader of the trafficking organization, is a fugitive in Mexico, Durkan said.

Berrelleza-Verduzco directed the smuggling of methamphetamine and heroin from Mexico into the United States and then would smuggle guns back to Mexico, according to court records. During wire-tapped phone conversations, he often threatened to hurt or kill people he believed had failed him, the federal prosecutor said in a statement.

“This sentence helps protect us from a very dangerous man and organization,” Durkan said, after Friday’s sentencing. “This defendant raked in massive profits from the scourge of heroin addiction. He and his family sought to control the entire supply chain, from growing the poppies, to manufacturing the heroin, to selling it in this district. And just as they moved their drugs north, they wanted to move high powered weapons back to Mexico to cause further cartel related violence.”

Brad Bench, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigators in Seattle, said Berrelleza-Verduzco ran a multimillion dollar heroin and meth trafficking operation from a small neighborhood in Snohomish County. It took local, state and federal agencies in three states to dismantle the organization, he said.

“He fed the destructive habit of Washington addicts and fueled Mexican cartel violence with drug money,” Bench said.

In his sentencing memorandum, Berrelleza-Verduzco denied that he was an assassin or that he moved weapons to Mexico, but he did acknowledge that he moved weapons to Arizona.

He was arrested in Arizona in 2011, was prosecuted and deported but returned to Washington State and continued his illegal activities, prosecutors said. Berrelleza-Verduzco and 29 co-conspirators were arrested in March 2012 and charged with 20 drug and firearms counts. In a plea deal, he pleaded guilty in April 2013 to five counts and the prosecutors agreed to dismiss 15 counts.

Last year, Victor Berrellez-Verduzco was sentenced to 20 years in prison and his brother Ivan was sentenced to seven years.

At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik said the three brothers are in prison in the U.S. because of actions that were “set in motion by their father.”

In his sentencing order, Lasnik said if the defendant “is deported from the U.S., he shall not return to the U.S. without explicit permission of the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Update hourly