Crime & Courts

Feds: Drug kingpin pleads guilty in Charlotte court

A man described by prosecutors as the head of a Mexican drug trafficking ring pleaded guilty in a Charlotte federal court Monday to a pair of heroin-related charges.

Carlos Ramon Castro-Rocha, 40, produced and distributed “vast quantities” of heroin in the United States between 2005 and 2008, according to federal prosecutors.

At the time of his arrest four years ago, a federal official told the Associated Press that Castro-Rocha worked for two cartels in Mexico and shepherded $2 million worth of heroin into the United States monthly.

The guilty plea was the latest step in a five-year effort by the federal government to put Castro-Rocha behind bars. It started in 2009, when a federal grand jury in Charlotte indicted him on drug trafficking charges.

The indictment was sealed until Mexican authorities arrested Castro-Rocha on May 30, 2010. Officials said Castro-Rocha’s operation was based in the western Mexican state of Sinaloa, across the Gulf of California from Baja California.

Prosecutors said Castro-Rocha tried unsuccessfully several times in Mexico to fight extradition, but his final appeal was rejected by a Mexican court in October 2012. He was sent to the United States later that month, prosecutors said.

He also faces drug trafficking and other charges in Arizona, according to federal prosecutors.

Court documents detail major drug trafficking in the Charlotte area. Prosecutors said police in Charlotte seized about 6 pounds of black tar heroin in September 2007 and another 1.2 pounds of heroin in August 2008. They said those drugs were part of Castro-Rocha’s network.

Police allege Castro-Rocha’s network trafficked nearly 25 pounds of heroin in the Charlotte area between 2005 and 2009.

“Castro-Rocha’s guilty plea speaks of our determination to dismantle organized drug networks and take down their bosses, no matter how long it takes,” U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said. “As this case shows, we will take the fight abroad and overcome all hurdles.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Rodney Monroe added, “The outcome of this case will have a significant impact on the distribution of illegal drugs across our nation and within the city of Charlotte.”

Another 11 people allegedly involved with Castro-Rocha’s operation have been charged.

Prosecutors said Castro-Rocha faces between 10 years and life in prison, with a $10 million fine. Sentencing has not been set, but authorities said Castro-Rocha will be transferred to Arizona to face charges there after sentencing in Charlotte.