LOS ANGELES – One of the principal cocaine traffickers associated with an international narcotics ring was sentenced this morning to 20 years in federal prison after law enforcement seized more than 170 pounds of cocaine and $1.5 million in drug-tainted cash linked to his narcotics-trafficking activities.
Zaid Wakil, 43, of Winston Salem, North Carolina, was sentenced by United States District Judge George H. Wu for his drug trafficking activities in which he acquired cocaine from Los Angeles-area traffickers with the intent to distribute the narcotics on the East Coast.
In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court, federal prosecutors said that Wakil “participated in an extensive scheme to traffic in extraordinary quantities of cocaine.” They argued that Wakil “willfully pursued a criminal lifestyle” as reflected in his 20 prior criminal convictions over the course of more than two decades on charges that included drug trafficking, forgery and burglary.
Following a jury trial in February at which Wakil represented himself, he was found guilty of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy and three counts of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. The three narcotics-possession counts were the result of three seizures between May and July of 2011 in which more than 170 pounds of cocaine was seized. Authorities in Arizona and seized nearly 70 pounds during two traffic stops, and investigators were able to intercept a 105-pound shipment that Wakil attempted to send to the East Coast via FedEx.
The first cocaine seizure in this case came during a May 2011 traffic stop of Wakil’s car in Flagstaff, Arizona by officers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. After he was released from custody less than two months later, Wakil contacted his Los Angeles-based supplier and stated that he was “still moving,” despite the law enforcement seizures of his drugs and money. According to wiretapped phone calls played at his trial, Wakil told his supplier at that time: “Let’s make the profits bigger.”
Wakil engaged in “sophisticated means to conceal his activities,” according to prosecutors, who noted that he operated a “shell business” in Santa Clarita – a purported trucking company that he used to conceal his cocaine shipments and to make his drug proceeds appear to be legitimate.
In 2010 and 2011, law enforcement in the San Fernando Valley, Ohio and Maryland made three seizures of cash totaling more than $1.5 million from vehicles that Wakil was driving. “[O]n each occasion, a trained narcotics detection canine gave a positive alert on the seized money,” according to the government’s sentencing brief.
Wakil was one of 22 defendants charged in June 2012 in two grand jury indictments with participating in a large-scale conspiracy to traffic cocaine. The conspiracy involved a drug-trafficking partnership between operatives in Mexico, Canada and the United States. Fourteen of the 22 defendants named in those indictments now have been convicted.
Both of the Los Angeles-based leaders of the conspiracy – Ichiro Tomatani-Guzman and Eduardo Olivares – pleaded guilty and each received 10-year prison terms. The leader of the Canadian nexus of the conspiracy – John Darrell Krokos – pleaded guilty and received a 138-month prison sentence.
Eight of the defendants charged in this case remain fugitives. They are:
- Jesus Esteban Felix Leon, 43, of Culiacan, Mexico;
- Jesus Felix Alvarez, 23, of Culiacan, Mexico;
- a man known only as “96”;
- Inocencio Aispuro-Lizarraga, 66, of Mexico;
- Rigoberto Ortega-Guzman, 60, of Downey;
- Fausto Medina, 42, of Lynwood;
- Mauricio Leon-Torres, 41, of Los Angeles; and
- Luis Cazarez-Beltran, 51, of Downey.
The investigation in this case, which was called Operation Odysseus, was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Pomona Police Department, the Glendale Police Department, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles Interagency Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force (LA IMPACT).