Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, 41, formerly of Sonora, Mexico, was convicted following a jury trial of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, announced United States Attorney John P. Kacavas.
Celaya Valenzuela and his co-conspirators were members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, led by represented the Sinaloa Cartel, led by the notorious drug lord Joaquin Guzman-Loera, also known as “Chapo.” The cartel was seeking new cocaine distribution routes from South America to Europe, Canada and the United States. Beginning in early 2010 and continuing through August 2012, undercover FBI agents posing as members of a European organized crime syndicate met with the cartel representatives. Many of the meetings were audio and video recorded and portions of those recordings were played for the jury. The recordings showed Celaya Valenzuela and several co-conspirators attending meetings in Miami, Boston, Madrid, Spain, and in Portsmouth and New Castle, New Hampshire.
Celaya Valenzuela held himself out as an attorney and financial planner working on behalf of Chapo and the cartel. Manuel Gutierrez Guzman, a co-conspirator and first cousin of Chapo, held himself out as his cousin’s representative in the negotiations. The cartel representatives offered to deliver thousands of kilograms of cocaine by containerized cargo vessels to various ports on the northeastern seaboard of the United States and in Europe. They further represented that the cocaine would come from any number of source countries, including Bolivia, Panama, Belize and Colómbia. The deal was consummated by a face-to-face meeting with Chapo and several telephone calls in which he himself discussed details of the intended shipments.
On July 27, 2012, the conspirators delivered 346 kilograms of cocaine, more than 750 pounds worth millions of dollars, to a port in Algeciras, Spain. The cocaine was shipped via cargo container in boxes that purportedly held glassware. The FBI seized the cocaine, and Celaya Valenzuela, Gutierrez Guzman, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela and Jesus Palazuelos Soto were arrested by Spanish law enforcement in Madrid on Aug. 7, 2012. The defendants were then extradited to New Hampshire.
Manuel Gutierrez Guzman, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela and Jesus Palazuelos Soto pleaded guilty before trial. A sentencing hearing for Soto is scheduled for Dec. 22, 2014. Sentencing hearings for Manuel Gutierrez Guzman and Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela are scheduled for Jan. 15, 2015. Celaya Valenzuela’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2015. All the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The cartel’s leader, Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman-Loera, was arrested by Mexican authorities in February 2014. He is under indictment in multiple jurisdictions in the United States, including the District of New Hampshire.
“Today’s guilty verdict, together with the guilty pleas of the defendant’s co-conspirators, demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to disrupting and dismantling international drug trafficking organizations wherever they seek to peddle their poison,” said U.S. Attorney Kacavas. “Whether along our southwest border, in major American cities, or in bucolic New Hampshire, we will use every law enforcement and prosecutorial tool at our disposal to bring international drug traffickers to justice. I want to thank our federal law enforcement partners, especially the FBI agents who went undercover at significant risk to their personal safety, and the Spanish National Police for their assistance in foiling this far-reaching scheme.”
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance with the extradition. The case was prosecuted by First Assistant United States Attorney Don Feith.