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Liberia: Gov’t Failure to Hire Translators Could Further Delay US$100M Cocaine Case



“I don’t think we will commence the trial in the absence of the Arabic interpreter. This is strange because we don’t know about the arrangements between him and the ministry,” the source lamented. “But we are still hoping that he could change his mind and answer our calls. “

The trial of four persons charged in connection with the US$100 million cocaine bust in October 2022 likely will not begin today due to the challenges facing Criminal Court “C” in contacting one of the two persons designated as interpreters to assist with the case.

Up until February 24, there was no clear information relating to the willingness of Larsana Keita, whose name the Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted to the court as the Arabic language interpreter for co-defendant Malam Conte, a Guinea Bissau national.

The other person is Tito Abanobi, who is expected to be a Portuguese interpreter for co-defendant Makki Admeh Issam. The two interpreters’ names and contact numbers were submitted on February 22 by the Deputy Foreign Minister/Legal Counsel, Deweh E Gray, to Judge Blamo Dixon, a highly placed judicial source confided in the Daily Observer.

The Ministry’s decision was triggered by a request from the defense counsel that co-defendants Malam Conte and Makki Admeh Issa could only understand and speak Arabic and Portuguese. But the source further claimed that Conte’s Arabic interpreter phone rang endlessly. “We also have Keita’s contact number, and since August 22, he has refused to answer our calls.”

“I don’t think we will commence the trial in the absence of the Arabic interpreter. This is strange because we don’t know about the arrangements between him and the ministry,” the source lamented. “But we are still hoping that he could change his mind and answer our calls. ”

The source claimed that they have not seen the two interpreters in person since the date their names were submitted to the court through written communication.

To authenticate the claim, the source claimed, Minister Gray’s letter said, “we acknowledge receipt of a cause of Action of Crimes, requesting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call on the US Embassy to assist in providing two interpreters to the court.”

The letter continues, “the ministry wishes to inform you that it has identified two interpreters who will assist the court in said capacity.”

“The ministry would highly appreciate it if Your Honor could kindly inform us of the date and time the interpreter will avail themselves to perform their separate tasks,” Gray’s communication added.

The trial will begin with the selection and sequestration of the 12-member jury panel by both the defense counsel and the prosecution. This could happen only if interpreter Keita were to agree to attend to his appointed task. The absence of interpreters forced the postponement of the trial, which is now set to start Monday, February 27.

Judge Dixon then said the trial can begin on February 27, if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has adequately informed the court about the appointment of the two interpreters, which they did through the communication. Dixon put off the trial last week to give the ministry time to get the interpreter after it requested additional time to contact the US Embassy to assist in that regard.

What is not mentioned in the letter is whether it was the US Embassy that suggested the two interpreters, one of whom has yet to show any interest in assisting the court.

The case grew from the government’s seizure of US$100 million worth of cocaine on October 1, 2022, in which one Oliver Zayzay, a Liberian national, and some of his foreign associates were arrested after seeking to purchase what appeared to be a shipping container full of fresh frozen pig feet from a refrigerated storage facility in Monrovia.

The defendants had initially offered to pay the owners of the container, AJA Group Holdings, the sum of US$200,000 for the entire container, which, at the time, cost less than US$30,000.

But when the defendants, within less than eight hours, doubled their offer to US$400,000 and, finally, to US$1 million, AJA Group said they were certain that Zayzay and his associates were dealing with a serious case of narcotics trafficking.

The company said they contacted the United States Ambassador, a move that brought both the American and Liberian anti-narcotics law enforcement agents into the picture and caught the suspects red-handed.

The US$100 million cocaine bust is believed to be the biggest arrest in terms of street value on the African continent so far.

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Woman sentenced to five to nine years in prison on cocaine, firearm charges




Audrey Thompson was sentenced on June 24 to five to nine years in prison on drug and firearm charges in Brunswick County Superior Court.

Per District Attorney Jon David’s office, 64-year-old Thompson from Southport was investigated by the sheriff’s office starting in January of 2023.

“For approximately one year, the Sheriff’s Office purchased cocaine from Thompson on multiple occasions. The investigation concluded with a search warrant(s) being executed on her residence and other properties on Trails End Road in Southport N.C. Narcotics officers recovered three stolen firearms from her residence,” the DA’s announcement states.

She pleaded guilty to six counts of sell/deliver cocaine and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon

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Ex-US Marine turned cartel confidant sentenced for smuggling tons of cocaine into the U.S.




SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Angel Dominguez Jr., grew up in the border town of Roma, Texas after his family migrated from Jalisco, Mexico when he was 8 years old.

Along the way, he got dual citizenship and joined the Marine Corps after high school.

While stationed in North Carolina in November 1994, he flipped his car and rolled off a bridge into a creek as he tried to avoid a deer on the road.

Dominguez was badly injured, but his two daughters, ages 3 and 4, died in the crash

His injuries were so severe that the Marines gave Dominguez a medical discharge, ending his military career and dream of becoming a member of an elite special forces unit.

After leaving the military, Dominguez struggled to find steady work.

Years later, he was arrested in Texas while trying to cross the border with a load of marijuana. He pleaded guilty and spent 13 months in federal prison.

Upon his release, he went to work for his brother-in-law in the construction industry, but the work dried up as the housing market plummeted.

In 2007, according to his attorney, Dominguez moved to Mexico where he met people who smuggled marijuana and cocaine into the U.S.

Dominguez developed relationships with cartels throughout Mexico and Latin America, had he reportedly used his smarts and large bribes to work with Mexican lawmakers and those in law enforcement.

“He has never made an excuse for the direction he took, only to say that after the accident, he stopped caring. He was numb,” according to defense attorney Nancee Schwartz, who made these comments in a written sentencing document. “He didn’t think or care about consequences because he had experienced the worst.”

Earlier this week, 28 years after the crash, Dominguez now 50, was sentenced to 195 months in prison, according to a news release issued by the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors described him as the “unquestioned leader” of an underworld group called “El Seguimiento 39” also known as “The Company” or “El Seg 39.”

Prosecutors say Dominguez ran a network that transported drugs into the United States and laundered money for several rival drug cartels in Mexico including the Sinaloa Cartel, Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, Los Zetas and others.

“Wiretap evidence demonstrates that he controlled every aspect of his organization,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Martin wrote in a sentencing memorandum, according to a story published in the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Dominguez did rely on co-conspirators to negotiate and control drug routes, find sources of supply, and prevent law enforcement from thwarting his trafficking, but ultimately he gave the orders to each of these co-conspirators.”

U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes noted the “staggering” amount of cocaine that Dominguez smuggled.

Dominguez and his group reportedly smuggled, on average, 10 tons of cocaine into the United States per month while laundering at least $10 million of drug proceeds back into Mexico on a monthly basis.

“Today’s sentence sends a message that the leaders of even the most powerful criminal organizations will be held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman.

But Dominguez’s attorney wrote the claims against his client were never supported by any evidence offered by prosecutors.

Dominguez was arrested in Mexico back in 2016 and extradited to San Diego.

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Fourteen People Charged in International Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Scheme





SAN DIEGO – A federal grand jury has charged 14 people with participating in an international multi-million-dollar cocaine trafficking and money laundering scheme.

According to an indictment unsealed today, plus additional information in a related search warrant, the alleged leader of the trafficking organization, Jesus Ruiz-Sandoval, managed the smuggling and distribution of large quantities of cocaine from Tijuana into the United States, and the movement of cash proceeds back to Mexico. Ruiz is a United States citizen who fled the U.S. for Mexico several years ago, in violation of his terms of supervised release for a prior federal drug-trafficking crime (Case number 08-cr-00713-DSF in the Central District of California).

The search warrant said Ruiz worked closely with other co-conspirators, including John Joe Soto and Esteban Sinhue Mercado, who are also U.S. citizens currently residing in Mexico. The alleged conspiracy involved smuggling large multi-kilo quantities of cocaine from Tijuana through San Diego to Los Angeles. From there, commercial trucks transported the cocaine from Los Angeles to the Mid-Atlantic for distribution in the Eastern United States. Commercial trucks also transported cash proceeds from the cocaine sales back across the United States to Los Angeles, where it was packaged and loaded into cars that couriers drove through San Diego and into Tijuana, delivering the proceeds to Ruiz there. To date, investigators have seized more than $5 million in cash proceeds and more than 130 kilos of cocaine.

“This office targets sophisticated international trafficking cells by hitting them where it hurts ­— their wallets,” said U.S. Attorney Tara K. McGrath. “Following the money takes you to the heart of a trafficking organization and this prosecution aims to drive a stake through it.” U.S. Attorney McGrath expressed her gratitude to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Hawthorne Police Department, which provided invaluable partnership in this investigation.

“One of the pillars of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is to identify and dismantle international drug trafficking organizations who poison our communities,” said Christopher Davis, Acting Special Agent in Charge for HSI San Diego. “Throughout this investigation and with the unwavering support from our law enforcement partners, we further discovered their involvement in a money laundering scheme. This indictment serves as a warning to those believing they can remain undetected by HSI – our message is clear. You will be found and you will be brought to justice.”

“This indictment marks a significant milestone in our relentless pursuit of justice against transnational criminal organizations. By leveraging collaborative efforts, CBP alongside our partner agencies are able to target the root causes of crime and dismantle organized criminal enterprises,” said Sidney K. Aki, Director of Field Operations for San Diego Field Office. “Ultimately, this unified approach promotes public safety, reduces the flow of illegal drugs and laundered funds, and strengthens the resilience of communities against these threats.”

This investigation is one of two into Ruiz. Several months after a grand jury in San Diego first indicted Ruiz, a separate grand jury in the Central District of California indicted him and others for a separate, but similar, international trafficking scheme. See United States v. Sandoval et al., 24-CR-008 AB (C.D. Cal.). The prosecutions of Ruiz and others indicted in both cases will proceed in coordinated fashion.

Another defendant, Ricardo Miranda-Beltran (aka Ricardo Miranda-Benitez), appeared Tuesday for his initial appearance on the indictment. Miranda was arrested in the Eastern District of California and ordered detained, and then ordered to appear in San Diego on these charges.

DEFENDANTS                                             Case Number 23cr1574 AJB                                        

*Jose Ruiz-Sandoval                                      Age: 45                                   Mexico

*John Joe Soto                                                Age: 43                                   Mexico

*Esteban Sinhue Mercado                              Age: 24                                   Mexico

Brittany Mangrum                                          Age: 36                                   Van Nuys, CA

Liliana Ruvalcaba-Gonzalez                          Age: 25                                   Anaheim, CA

Yessenia Lazo                                                 Age: 23                                   Los Angeles, CA

Ricardo Miranda-Beltran                               Age: 57                                   Bakersfield, CA

Edwin Rafael Hernandez                                Age: 32                                   Pasadena, CA

*Denotes fugitives who are not in custody

**Additional defendants’ names are redacted and not listed here


Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances – Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a) & 846

Maximum Penalty: Life in custody, $10 million fine, and a life term of supervised release

Conspiracy to Import Controlled Substances – Title 21, United States Code, Sections 952, 960, and 963

Maximum Penalty: Life in custody, $10 million fine, and a life term of supervised release

Consp. to Launder Monetary Instruments – Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1956(a)(2)(B)(i) & (h)

Maximum Penalty:- Twenty years in custody, $500,000 fine or twice the laundered amount, and a 3-year term of supervised release

Bulk Cash Smuggling – Title 31, United States Code, Section 5332

Maximum Penalty: Five years in custody, $250,000 fine, and a 3-year term of supervised release


Homeland Security Investigations

Customs and Border Protection

Los Angeles Police Department, Transnational Organized Crime Section

Hawthorne Police Department

*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks

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