DOJ Busts Four in International Cocaine Smuggling Ring

Cocaine Now Second Deadliest Drug in America

Authorities incinerate a load of cocaine seized to two Colombian nationals navigating along the Caribbean, in Tegucigalpa, on July 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP via Getty Images)
Confiscated cocaine / Getty Images
December 17, 2019

The Department of Justice on Tuesday announced the indictment of four men it claims have been smuggling cocaine into the United States for almost 15 years.

Amado Beltran Beltran, Otto Rene Salguero Morales, Ronald Enrique Salguero Portillo, and Fernando Felix Rodriguez face charges that since at least 2004, they have conspired to import cocaine and used and carried machine guns and other destructive devices during said conspiracy. According to DOJ, the four men received cocaine shipments from Colombia and Venezuela and smuggled the narcotics across the United States's southwestern border.

The conspiracy DOJ highlighted Tuesday implicated not only the four indicted men but also Honduran officials—including former Honduran congressman Juan Antonio Hernández Alvarado—and the Sinaloa cartel, for whom they provided services. In particular, the four men paid bribes to Honduran officials and provided guards for the drugs who carried weapons, including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

"[T]oday's charges are further proof that even well-connected drug traffickers will be held to account," DEA special agent in charge Wendy Woolcock said. "These alleged criminals will stop at nothing to protect their shipments of poison, often resorting to bribery, intimidation, and even violence. The DEA is committed to doing all it can to combat the threat of drug-trafficking and stop these dangerous substances from flooding our communities and harming Americans."

Tuesday's announcement is, Woolcock noted, a follow-on to the conviction of Hernández, the brother of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández. According to testimony presented during "Tony" Hernández's trial, President Hernández "looked the other way in exchange for millions of dollars for his and his party's political campaigns," the New York Times reported.

The results of that case, and Tuesday's indictments, highlight the ongoing link between Central American corruption, America's often-porous southwestern border, and the U.S. drug crisis. More than 89,000 pounds of cocaine was interdicted crossing the border in the last fiscal year alone, likely meaning a much larger volume crossed unmolested. Those drugs, in turn, led to an estimated 15,000 deaths in 2018, a disproportionately large number of which were likely African American. CDC projections indicate that as of 2018, cocaine is the second deadliest drug in the United States, eclipsing heroin and only beaten by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.