Crime & SafetyFlorida

Sinaloa Cartel members face long prison sentences for drug trafficking across multiple states

Florida – Seven members and associates of the notorious Sinaloa Cartel have been sentenced to federal prison for their involvement in a large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy. This operation, which spanned multiple states and involved dangerous narcotics such as fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine, highlights the severe impact of the cartel’s activities on communities across the United States.

The defendants, who had previously pleaded guilty, received substantial sentences, reflecting the gravity of their crimes. Among them, Hector Alejandro Apodaca-Alvarez, 53, of Somerton, Arizona, and Mark Anthony Roque Bustamante, 33, of Yuma, Arizona, were key figures. Apodaca-Alvarez, known for his prior convictions in multiple federal districts, was sentenced to life in prison. His extensive criminal history and the deadly nature of his operations were major factors in this severe sentence.

Roque Bustamante, dubbed the “Skittles Man” for distributing rainbow-colored fentanyl pills, also received a life sentence. His role as a primary source of supply for Apodaca-Alvarez and his involvement in smuggling drugs into the U.S. marked him as a significant threat.

Other defendants received the following sentences:

  • Luis Tejada Velasquez, 37, of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico: 242 months in prison
  • Austin Toma Grupee, 43, of Providence, Rhode Island: 262 months in prison
  • Jonathan Nicholas Chavez, 25, of Brawley, California: 57 months in prison
  • Jorge Moreno, 28, of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico: 121 months in prison
  • Jose Chavez Zaragoza, 38, of Yuma, Arizona: 47 months in prison

From June 2022 through May 2023, Apodaca-Alvarez used the U.S. mail and his trucking business to distribute tens of thousands of pressed fentanyl pills, along with kilogram-quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine. His operations extended across several states, including Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, and Virginia.

The investigation revealed that Apodaca-Alvarez coordinated directly with high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel, including Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, a co-founder of the cartel. He boasted to an undercover agent about the potency of his fentanyl pills, stating they were “dropping people everywhere.”

In addition to drug trafficking, the defendants were involved in the illegal acquisition and distribution of firearms. Apodaca-Alvarez and Roque Bustamante were recorded discussing the procurement of high-powered rifles, including .50 caliber weapons, to be smuggled into Mexico.

ATF Director Steven Dettelbach emphasized the dangerous combination of drugs and firearms, stating, “Guns and drugs are often linked, particularly when it comes to the cartels. ATF is committed to working with all our partners to hold accountable those who spread poison in our streets and arm those who supply that poison.”

The successful prosecution of these individuals resulted from the combined efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies. The ATF’s Fort Lauderdale Field Division, with support from the DEA, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Miami, the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO), ATF Yuma, U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service, played critical roles in this operation.

Special Agent in Charge Christopher A. Robinson of the ATF Miami Field Division praised the collaborative efforts, saying, “This investigation is a testament to the combined efforts of multiple Field Divisions of ATF in collaboration, conjunction, and synthesis with our federal, state, and local partners. Combating violent crime is one of ATF’s core missions, and this case demonstrates how this relationship works to collectively keep American communities and the communities of our neighbors to the south safe from one of the most violent drug trafficking organizations in the world.”

The DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment identifies the Sinaloa Cartel as a central player in the fentanyl crisis, which has claimed thousands of lives across the United States. In the first six months of 2023 alone, fentanyl killed 38,000 Americans. Laboratory testing shows that seven out of ten pills seized by the DEA contain a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco highlighted the severity of the crisis and the importance of the sentences, stating, “The significant sentences imposed by the court reflect the deadly nature of the crimes committed by Mexican cartel members in flooding our communities with fentanyl and other lethal drugs. Our law enforcement officers work across the U.S. and around the globe to combat the cartels’ firearms and drug trafficking, which wreak so much violence and devastation in our communities.”

The prosecution was led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ajay J. Alexander, M. Catherine Koontz, and Brooke Latta of the Southern District of Florida, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Addison Owen of the District of Arizona. Their efforts were part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation, which aims to dismantle high-level criminal organizations through a multi-agency, intelligence-driven approach.

U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida underscored the broader implications of the case, stating, “When you consider the quantity of drugs being trafficked and the deleterious impact illicit narcotics have on our community, it is readily apparent that these defendants sold drugs for the sole purpose of profiting off a public health crisis – addiction. The fentanyl epidemic, to include here in south Florida, has caused a deafening silence as thousands of people have overdosed and died. We commend our partner agencies, as we work collectively to prosecute the members and associates of cartels that fuel the drug poisoning crisis and traffic in firearms.”

For more information on the OCDETF program, visit the Department of Justice’s website.

Jordan Collins

Jordan is an experienced editor with years in the journalism and reporting industry. He loves talking with the community about the problems local residents face and state politics. You can find him in the gym almost every day or see him jogging.

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