A pilot for a Connecticut-based gang of drug traffickers who was captured after trying to smuggle nearly two tons of cocaine into the U.S. was extradited to Hartford Monday where authorities are asking that he be held without bond, while awaiting trial, federal prosecutors said.

Federal authorities said Mexican pilot Ronier Sanchez Alonzo, 46, was helping to fly the drugs from South America to Honduras for a drug trafficking organization based in Wolcott in 2016 when the heavy loaded private jet, registered in Connecticut, ran low on fuel and was forced down about 25 miles short of an airport it was trying to reach in Honduras.

The crew had planned to load the drugs onto a truck in Honduras, where they would be driven by truck though Mexico and into the U.S. for distribution in Connecticut and elsewhere, the authorities said.

“Following the emergency landing in an unanticipated location, Venezuelan authorities were alerted to the plane’s arrival and responded with an open-fire order on the grounded aircraft plane, ensuring that it could not take off again,” prosecutors said in papers filed in U.S. District Court Monday. “The crew, to include Sanchez, managed to run and hide in a nearby tree line until they were ultimately rescued by members of the drug trafficking organization and provided safe passage and escort into Colombia.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency learned that the cocaine was “diverted back to Colombia” and that Sanchez had traveled to Paraguay, where the government agreed to extradite him over his objections at the request of the U.S.

DEA agents and local law enforcement said in court papers that their investigation showed that, between 2015 and 2016, the Wolcott organization smuggled large quantities of cocaine into the U.S. from Venezuela, and Colombia. Drugs were sold in the U.S. and money/cash was smuggled back to Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, they said.

The investigation identified Sanchez as one of the organization’s Mexico-based pilots and tied him to smugglers in Dominican Republic and Wolcott, federal prosecutors said.

“Sanchez’s duties within this drug trafficking organization primarily focused on his role and expertise as a pilot which would further the DTO’s smuggling routes between Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic,” federal prosecutors said.

Breaking News

Breaking News

As it happens

Get the latest updates on Coronavirus and other breaking news events happening across Connecticut

Authorities said Sanchez was co-piloting the aircraft when it was forced down in August 2016. With him were pilot Rupert B. De Las Casas and Ricardo Manuel Alcala-Casillas, who was supposed to be the bodyguard for the cocaine.

Sanchez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years from using an aircraft to smuggle more than five kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. Sanchez and others are charged with with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on board an aircraft registered in the U.S.  Sanchez has been detained since he was arrested in Paraguay, on March 25, 2021.

De Las Casas, who last resided in Florida, pleaded guilty and is detained while awaiting sentencing. Alcala-Casillas is at large.

Another co-conspirator, Arrinson De La Cruz, who had worked at an airport in the Dominican Republic and helped to coordinate the travel of the jet through the airport uninterrupted, was charged separately for his role in this scheme and other drug trafficking activity. De La Cruz, a citizen of the Dominican Republic who had resided in Wolcott, Connecticut, pleaded guilty and, on November 20, 2019, was sentenced to 144 months in prison.

The plane was registered in Connecticut. De las Casas’ sentencing was continued. There’s a plea proceeding transcript posted on his docket. Arrinson de la Cruz lived in Connecticut.

Source link