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Two found guilty, connected to cartel's cocaine shipments

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Two men, connected to a Mexican cocaine cartel, could be sent to jail for life.

A federal grand jury found 38-year-old Jesus Hector Flores and 40-year-old Joe Louis Lopez, both of Texas, guilty of cocaine trafficking, weapon possession, and conspiracy to distribute drugs. Flores reportedly ran an Atlanta distribution operation for a Mexican cartel, from his home in Laredo, Texas, distributing about 100 kilograms of cocaine every week, according to United States Attorney David E. Nahmias.

The cocaine was shipped by tractor trailer over the border, to Laredo, and then traveled to Atlanta, which is believed to have been the center of the distribution operation. According to federal prosecutors, the Atlanta-based cartel operatives then shipped millions of dollars in cash back to Mexico.

Rodney G. Benson, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division, said the "copious quantities of cocaine" presents a "clear and present danger to our nation."

In 2005, according to evidence presented during the trial, the Drug Enforcement Agency wiretapped a number of homes, in Laredo, and began seizing shipments of cocaine and cash. During the trial, a Georgia State Patrol officer testified he had seized $2.5 million from one semi truck, and agents showed jurors photos of cash, 120 kilos of cocaine and a stockpile of semiautomatic weapons seized from metro-area stash houses.

The Laredo Morning Times reported that Flores was the co-founder of a home theater installation company, and resigned after the arrest in November 2005. In the same edition of the Times, a local sheriff reportedly described the region as a war zone for competing cartels crossing the border.

Flores and Lopez were connected, during the federal trial, to 4,000 kilos of cocaine distributed in Georgia and Tennessee. Eight others have pleaded guilty to participating in the drug distribution: Romero Roel Martinez, 29, of Laredo; Luis Trevino, 29, of Laredo; Roberto Garcia, 31, of Loredo, Florention Villanueva-Castillo, 29, of Tamaulaipas, Mexico; Guadalupe Garajas-Valencia, 34, of Michoacan, Mexico; Manuel Coronado-Espindola, 42, of Michoacan, Mexico; Sergio Fiugueroa-Leyva, 53, of Guerrero, Mexico; and Adelia Beltran-Cardenas, 43, of Mexico.

Though the cartel took a hit, with the 2005 arrests, and though the Atlanta-area authorities declared the joint-operation a success in the ongoing war on drugs, Clayton County continues to see shipments of cocaine from Mexican cartels. In the last five months, Clayton County narcotics agents have seized about $30 million worth of cocaine, being shipped by tractor trailer from Laredo and destined for distribution in the Southeast. The agents said they were working with the DEA, and had been told, by the federal agents, that the shipments were coming from an unnamed Mexican cartel.

A DEA spokesman could not be reached for comment, Tuesday, on the possible connection between those arrested in 2005 and the cartel responsible for the cocaine seized in Clayton County.