Two Men Sentenced to Eight and 10 Years in Prison for Large-Scale Drug Trafficking Conspiracy
ANCHORAGE, AK—U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that two men have been sentenced by United States District Court Judge Sharon L. Gleason to serve 96 and 120 months in prison respectively for their roles in a conspiracy to sell large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine to Alaska-based drug dealers.
Jorge Armando Zaragoza-Soto, a citizen of Mexico, and Geronimo Arellano Velarde, a/k/a “Negro,” of California, both previously pled guilty to conspiring with others to distribute methamphetamine. Zaragoza-Soto also pled guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine. Together, the two men were personally responsible for the distribution or attempted distribution of nine pounds of methamphetamine and five kilograms of cocaine to Alaska based co-conspirators. Zaragoza-Soto separately admitted storing an additional ten pounds of methamphetamine on behalf of other California and Mexico-based drug dealers. Upon being released from prison, both men will be on supervised release for five years.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie C. Courter, who prosecuted the case, the conspiracy began in February 2013 and continued until both men were indicted in October 2014. During the course of the conspiracy, both Zaragoza-Soto and Velarde engaged in multiple drug transactions.
For example, in October 2013, after receiving cash from an Alaska-based co-conspirator, Zaragoza-Soto mailed five pounds of methamphetamine and five kilograms of cocaine from an address in Colton, California to an address in Anchorage. The drugs were later seized by law enforcement, which found Zaragoza-Soto’s fingerprints on the inside of the materials used to package and ship the drugs. Later, in July 2014, Velarde personally delivered an additional four pounds of methamphetamine to an undercover agent posing as an Alaska drug distributor. In exchange for the drugs, Velarde accepted $20,000 in cash from the agent.
During the sentencing hearings, Judge Gleason raised concerns about the large quantity of methamphetamine and cocaine involved in the conspiracy, noting that crimes like this are ruining the lives of hundreds of families here in Alaska and wreaking havoc throughout our state. Judge Gleason also emphasized the importance of handing down sentences that addressed the seriousness of the defendants’ offense, promoted respect for the law, and protected the community from future crimes committed by the men.
The two sentencing hearings are related to a string of indictments returned in late 2014 and early 2015 as part of ongoing efforts to dismantle and prosecute several large scale drug trafficking rings with ties to Alaska, California, Texas, Arizona, and Mexico. To date, the following individuals have been sentenced as part of these efforts:
- Timothy Alex, an Anchorage drug distributor, previously sentenced to 108 months in prison;
- Daniel Harris, an Anchorage drug distributor, previously sentenced to 135 months in prison;
- Jose Ramon Canales, of Texas, previously sentenced to 70 months in prison for laundering drug money out of the United States and into Mexico; and
- Genaro Gutierrez-Reyes, of California, previously sentenced to 18 months in prison for laundering drug money out of the United States and into Mexico
Several other defendants are set to be sentenced in the coming months for their roles in trafficking heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine to Alaska and then transporting the cash proceeds of their trafficking activities back to Mexico.
This and the related cases were investigated as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Loeffler praised the work of the law enforcement agencies involved, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the Anchorage Police Department (APD), the Alaska State Troopers (AST), and the Anchorage Airport Police Department. Additional assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Western District of Texas, the Eastern and Central Districts of California, and the District of Arizona, as well as federal agents in all three states.