Oct 15, 2014 2:48 PM
Key player in Sinaloa drug cartel convicted in NH courtroom
CONCORD - A key player in the infamous Sinaloa drug cartel was convicted on several drug charges in U.S. District Court after a jury trial.
Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, 41, formerly of Sonora, Mexico, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, including cocaine,
heroin and methamphetamine, according to United States Attorney John P. Kacavas.
Celaya Valenzuela and his co-conspirators were members of the Sinaloa drug 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.
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 Columbia.
The deal was consummated by a face-to-face meeting with Chapo in the mountains of his home state of Sinaloa and several telephone calls in which he himself discussed details of the intended shipments.
In July of 2012, the conspirators delivered 346 kilograms of cocaine 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 in August of 2012, arrested Celaya Valenzuela, Gutierrez Guzman, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela and Jesus Palazuelos Soto in Madrid.
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 December 2014. Sentencing hearings for Manuel Gutierrez Guzman and Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela are scheduled for January 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.
The case was investigated by the FBI, and it was prosecuted byFirst Assistant United States Attorney Don Feith.