A U.S. Marine veteran pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Wednesday to orchestrating a drug-trafficking operation that moved South American-sourced cocaine through Mexico and into the United States.
Angel Dominguez Ramirez Jr., a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen, pleaded guilty to a drug-trafficking conspiracy and a money-laundering conspiracy.
In his plea agreement, Dominguez admitted to being the leader of an organization that moved hundred-ton quantities of cocaine from South America into the U.S. According to the indictment, prosecutors say smugglers used boats, airplanes and commercial vehicles to move the drugs from South and Central America into Mexico, then brought the loads over the California and Texas borders for distribution.
He also admitted to coordinating the flow of cash from drug-sales profits in the U.S. back to Mexico.
Dominguez’s military training was an asset while working as an original member of Los Zetas, a paramilitary cartel that was initially created as an enforcement arm of the Cartel del Golfo, according to the indictment. Known as “Zeta 39,” he later named his own group El Seguimiento 39.
Prosecutors said Dominguez was able to operate his own organization through cooperative alliances with several other powerful cartels, including the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion.
He also relied on a deep network of corrupt government officials and law enforcement officers in Mexico, including Ivan Reyes Arzate — a top federal police commander who served as a liaison with U.S. law enforcement officials.
U.S. agents in 2016 had begun to suspect a mole in the upper reaches of government, but it was an intercepted phone call between Dominguez and another trafficker that indicated Reyes was the one sharing intelligence on U.S. drug enforcement operations with cartels, according to prosecutors.
At one point, Dominguez floated a plan to Reyes: Dominguez would feed the federal police with incriminating information against rival cartel bosses so that when they were arrested Dominguez could take over their territory, prosecutors said.
Dominguez was arrested in Mexico in 2016 and extradited to San Diego in 2019.
Reyes was prosecuted in Chicago and sentenced to 40 months prison in 2018.
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