A 34-year-old drug trafficker, accused of working for a Mexican drug cartel, was sentenced in Statesville Wednesday to life in prison for his role in a methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy that sold the drug in North Carolina and other states.
Federal prosecutors said Cesar Sierro-Pineda, also known as El Chocado, was a distributor for the Mexican drug cartel La Familia Michoacana.
Sierro-Pineda was accused of importing into the United States from Mexico near-pure crystal methamphetamine, also known as ice, from November 2010 through February 2011.
Authorities said Sierro-Pineda cooked the methamphetamine in an informal superlab in his home in Duluth, Ga. A superlab is capable of producing 10 or more pounds of methamphetamine at a time.
Prosecutors allege that on Nov. 8, 2010, Sierro-Pineda attempted to import approximately 6.5 kilograms of methamphetamine ice into the United States using a courier.
U.S. authorities seized the methamphetamine at the International Port of Entry in Laredo, Texas.
Sierro-Pineda continued selling methamphetamine to customers in North Carolina and other states, prosecutors said.
In February 2011, law enforcement authorities raided Sierro-Pinedas superlab in Duluth, seizing five gallons of liquid methamphetamine in the process of being converted to crystal methamphetamine, according to prosecutors.
That volume of liquid methamphetamine could be converted into 20 pounds of the drug.
During the investigation, law enforcement authorities also seized more than two additional pounds of methamphetamine and 20 firearms, authorities said.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements Homeland Securities Investigations, the State Bureau of Investigation and the sheriffs offices in Rowan, Iredell and Wilkes counties.
Four other defendants have pleaded guilty and been sentenced in connection with the case.
• Hildeberto Gonzalez-Chavez, 32, of Mexico was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
• Henry Clay Randleman, 56, of Ronda was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
• Jason Scott Holbrook, 35, of Hamptonville was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison.
• Edgar Santana, 23, of Atlanta was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison.
Operation Tool Vault
Alejandro Salinas Garcia, 31, of Mexico also was sentenced in Statesville Wednesday to life in prison for his role in another drug-trafficking conspiracy.
Five other defendants also have been sentenced in connection with Operation Tool Vault, a multiyear investigation of a drug trafficking conspiracy to distribute cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana in the Charlotte area.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy, which lasted from 2002 to 2009, involved importing more than 600 kilograms of cocaine, more than one kilogram of crack cocaine, about two kilograms of methamphetamine and more than 5,000 pounds of marijuana, primarily from Mexico through the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
Federal prosecutors say Garcia was the leader of the conspiracy and the local source of supply for the drug trafficking organization.
He used his co-defendants to distribute the narcotics and to enforce and collect debts from customers, according to prosecutors.
The other defendants sentenced in connection with the drug-trafficking conspiracy:
• Kenneth Lee Travis (also known as Blue), 27, of Hickory was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison.
• Timothy Allen Grate (also known as Chewey), 38, of Manning, S.C., was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
• Mary Elizabeth Bailey Williams, 34, of Hickory was sentenced to nine years in prison.
• Anderson Contreras, 31, formerly of Newton, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
• Alberto Carranza-Flores, 38, of Mexico was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.