SAN DIEGO (AP) — A former U.S. Marine who ran a ring that ferried tons of cocaine into the country from South America through Mexico has been sentenced to more than 16 years in federal prison, it was announced Wednesday.
Angel Dominguez Ramirez Jr., who holds both U.S. and Mexican citizenship, was sentenced Tuesday in San Diego after pleading guilty last fall to conspiracy to launder money and traffic drugs internationally, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.
Ramirez, 50, of Tamaulipas, Mexico, will receive credit for nearly six years he already has served behind bars.
Prosecutors said Dominguez ran a group calling itself El Seguimiento 39, El Seg 39 or simply “The Company,” that was allied to Mexican drug operations such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the notoriously violent Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion.
At its height, the organization smuggled about 10 tons (9,072 kilograms) of cocaine a month into the United States and sent at least $10 million in drug proceeds back to Mexico month, authorities estimated.
“Wiretap evidence demonstrates that he controlled every aspect of his organization,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Martin wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
The group used its contacts with corrupt high-level Mexican officials to thwart investigations, authorities said, including Ivan Reyes Arzate, a federal police commander who in February was sentenced in New York to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking.
In her own sentencing memorandum, Ramirez's lawyer said his decision to turn to crime was influenced by trouble finding ways to support himself after a 1994 accident in North Carolina where Ramirez swerved on a back road to avoid hitting a deer. His car flipped off a bridge into water.
The crash killed his two daughters, ages 3 and 4, and Ramirez was seriously injured, ending his Marine career.
“He has never made an excuse for the direction he took, only to say that after the accident, he stopped caring. He was numb,” attorney Nancee Schwartz wrote in the memo, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “He didn’t think or care about consequences because he had experienced the worst.”
Struggling to find work, Ramirez was 27 when he agreed to deliver a load of marijuana from Mexico but was arrested in Texas and served about a year in federal prison.
A construction company he started with his brother-in-law failed and Ramirez moved his family to Mexico in 2007 to work with a cousin who was an architect.
There, he met drug smugglers and saw the work as a way to support his family, his lawyer said.
He was arrested in 2016 and was extradited to San Diego, where he pleaded guilty the conspiracy charges.
During a multi-national investigation, authorities seized more than 4.74 tons (4,300 kilograms) of cocaine.