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HSI San Diego, multiagency partners send Guatemalan leader of cocaine trafficking organization to prison for nearly 22 years

HSI San Diego, multiagency partners send Guatemalan leader of cocaine trafficking organization to prison for nearly 22 years

SAN DIEGO — A Guatemalan national and leader of a drug trafficking organization was sentenced in federal court Feb. 9 to 260 months in prison. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated this case with assistance from multiple federal agencies.

Josue Adan Lemus-Lara aka Fenix, 39, of Esquipulas, Guatemala, was convicted on all charges in a maritime cocaine trafficking conspiracy following a weeklong jury trial in November 2023.

“This significant sentencing reflects HSI, the U.S. attorney’s office and our partner law enforcement agencies’ commitment to holding international drug traffickers responsible for their illicit activity,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “This complex, multiyear investigation demonstrates HSI’s ability to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations and our commitment to protecting our communities and the people of the United States of America.”

During a multiyear wiretap investigation led by HSI special agents assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, authorities identified Josue Lemus-Lara and his brother and co-conspirator, Willian Lemus-Lara aka Humilde, as leaders of a transnational criminal organization. The organization moved tons of cocaine from South America to Guatemala at sea, and over land to Mexican counterparts — including members of the Sinaloa Cartel — for importation to the United States.

At trial, prosecutors presented evidence from 13 rounds of court-authorized wiretaps demonstrating that in 2017 Josue Lemus-Lara traveled from Guatemala to Colombia to oversee the Lemus-Lara Organization’s cocaine trafficking operation and to establish new cocaine supply lines. As Josue Lemus-Lara told a co-conspirator, “We either make money or we get thrown in jail or we get killed.”

Prosecutors presented evidence at trial showing Lemus-Lara’s role as head of South American operations for the organization, including extensive wiretap transcripts, pictures Lemus-Lara sent of bespoke cocaine brands the group was procuring, and over a dozen photos of a cocaine laboratory in the Ecuadorian jungle. As prosecutors outlined at trial, in just a five-day span in May 2017, the organization dispatched four vessels, each carrying over 750 kilograms of cocaine from South America to Guatemala. Interdiction efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard stymied two of those loads, including 781-kilograms seized from the vessel.

Colombian authorities initially apprehended Josue Lemus-Lara in February 2019. He was extradited to the United States from Colombia on Dec. 2, 2020, at the U.S. government’s request.

This was a “highly sophisticated” and “spectacular conspiracy in its scope and depth,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw. “It’s hard to put into words how sophisticated and involved it was.”

“This prosecution sends a shot across the bow to maritime traffickers moving narcotics across the Americas and into the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “Coordinated efforts of U.S. government agencies continue to identify, dismantle and prosecute these operators inside our borders and beyond.”

“Drug traffickers drive addiction and destroy communities,” said DEA acting Special Agent in Charge Paul Abosamra. “As such, the DEA and its partners will continue to pursue these traffickers in every corner of the globe and bring them to justice.”

“The members of the U.S. Coast Guard remain dedicated to helping dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that continue to threaten the lives within our community and country,” said Rear Admiral Andrew Sugimoto, commander of U.S. Coast Guard District 11. “As a service, we will continue to work with our international, federal and local partners to put an end to their illegal and dangerous operations and ensure these individuals are held accountable.”

HSI investigated the case with help from U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the U.S. Coast Guard; the HSI attaché in Guatemala City; the Department of Justice’s Office of Enforcement Operations, Office of International Affairs and Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force; and Joint Interagency Task Force-South.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Kevin Mokhtari and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison B. Murray.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’ largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Originally published at

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