A federal indictment unsealed on Feb. 26 reveals that eight people are accused of being involved in a drug trafficking and money laundering scheme that attracted the attention of international law enforcement. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas announced the indictments. The suspects, who are already in custody, face a series of felony charges, including conspiring to manufacture and to distribute cocaine, conspiring to launder the proceeds of drug sales, conspiring to violate export laws, and committing violations connected to federal aircraft registrations.
Thousands of aircraft and no airport
Federal agents began investigating the suspects’ alleged activities after overseas law enforcement agencies discovered large amounts of cocaine in several aircraft registered in the United States. Investigators quickly discovered that the aircraft were all registered illegally by companies owned or operated by a 53-year-old Florida man and a 40-year-old Texas man. Investigators also learned that the companies registered thousands of planes in a small Polk County town that does not have an airport. The aircraft was allegedly paid for by drug cartels operating out of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Belize, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
According to U.S. attorneys, these drug cartels used planes to transport cocaine and drug money to and from the United States. Prosecutors say the scheme earned the individuals involved about $350 million between 2016 and 2020. The eight suspects face long prison sentences if they are convicted. They could be sent to prison for up to 20 years on the money laundering, wire fraud, and export violation counts, and convictions on the drug trafficking charges could lead to life sentences.
Complex cases and plea agreements
Investigations that uncovered multiple crimes and international conspiracies can be difficult for juries to follow, which is why prosecutors usually try to resolve cases like this one at the negotiating table if they can. If you are accused of manufacturing, trafficking, or distributing illegal drugs, an experienced criminal defense attorney may recommend that you consider a plea agreement if the evidence against you is strong and the offer presented by the prosecutor involved seems fair. However, an attorney could reject plea offers and advocate on your behalf in court if the prosecutors’ case is less than compelling or if you maintain your innocence.