Jorge Ramon Hernandez, a working-class guy from Hialeah, Fla. once had a bright future.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and joined the Army after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, working as an Arabic translator as part of an intelligence unit.
But after suffering a back injury in the military, he returned home to Miami and never quite put his life back on track.
On Wednesday, Hernandez, 41, pleaded guilty yet again to charges of importing the popular club drug Molly from China through the U.S. mail. He could be imprisoned for four to ten years on two charges of conspiracy to import a controlled substance at his sentencing on Jan. 8 before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.
At his change of plea hearing, the heavily tattooed Hernandez, who had been working as a personal trainer, said he was treated for mental health problems at the Veterans Administration Hospital and prescribed antidepressants — an issue that’s likely to be raised by his defense attorney, Ken Swartz, at sentencing.
When Hernandez was arrested in June on this latest offense, he had just completed a two-and-a-half-year sentence for running a much larger Molly ring that included a dozen suspects who sold variations of the synthetic stimulant MDMA imported from suppliers in China. Hernandez and the others were part of a new breed of narco-traffickers — far different from the cocaine cowboys of the “Miami Vice” era — who ordered synthetic drugs over the internet and had them delivered through the mail.
According to court records, Hernandez used an email account, “[email protected],” to order more than 1,000 grams of the MDMA stimulant ephylone from China and paid for the shipments through Western Union between March and August of last year. Agents with Homeland Security Investigations learned about his internet transactions from a confidential source and targeted him until his arrest this summer.
Using a computer that belonged to his employer in Miami, Hernandez reached out in March 2018 to someone identified as “source email1” that he wanted to “place an order for 1000 grams of bk-ebdp,” or ephylone, according to an affidavit. The source sent him a price list for 50 grams, 200 grams and 1,000 grams with the color options of white, brown, pink and blue and a Western Union account in China. Hernandez was also instructed to receive the shipment at a real address and to include a phone number.
Hernandez gave the source an address in Las Vegas, along with a phone number, according to the affidavit by HSI Special Agent Alexis Gregory. Afterward, U.S. Customs officials seized a parcel containing 528 grams of ephylone that was sent from China to the Las Vegas address.
Soon after, the source emailed Hernandez that the delivery had failed and offered to send an extra quantity on the next order. Hernandez responded: “Can you please send me maybe 250g. I will pay for shipping, and if it comes through I will pay for that 250. … I am looking to buy 4-5 kilos a week once im up and running again, but I require your help right now.”
The source emailed Hernandez that the shipping would cost an additional $200, and he sent a wire transfer for that amount to a Western Union account in China, according to a plea statement filed by prosecutor Stephanie Hauser. He eventually received the synthetic drug shipment from Hong Kong at an address in West Palm Beach.
Then, Hernandez ordered 500 grams of ephylone from someone else identified as “source email2.” According to the plea statement, a person identified as “J.O.” sent $620 via Western Union on behalf of Hernandez to a supplier in China for the 500 grams. The parcel of synthetic drugs was shipped to an address in Lakeland.
Four years ago, Hernandez had skyrocketed to notoriety for running one of the largest synthetic drug rings in South Florida history — then going undercover for the feds to bust a dozen others.
The story of Hernandez, a University of Miami grad, and his best friend, fellow veteran Matthew Anich, first came to light in November 2015 as part of the Miami Herald’s Pipeline China series. The series chronicled the new breed of South Florida drug dealers importing synthetic drugs via the mail from China, including fentanyl, the powerful drug that has fueled a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction.
Hernandez frequented strip clubs, employed a cadre of romantic conquests to wire money to Chinese suppliers, drove a $100,000 Bentley paid for in cash and lived in various waterfront condos.
Their Miami lifestyle came crashing down when Anich’s angry girlfriend, a porn star named Selena Rose, got into a fight with him, then tipped off police to the Molly operation.
Anich secretly cooperated against Hernandez, who in turn helped Homeland Security agents build their far-reaching case. In all, the U.S. Attorney’s Office convicted more than a dozen people in various cases, with all but one pleading guilty.
© 2019 Miami Herald
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