One of the top members of an international cocaine organization that had links to Los Angeles-area suppliers was sentenced Monday to 20 years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge George H. Wu sentenced Zaid Wakil, 43, of Winston Salem, North Carolina, for his part in a scheme in which he acquired cocaine from traffickers in the Southland with the intent to distribute the narcotics on the East Coast. In a pre-sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors wrote that Wakil “participated in an extensive scheme to traffic in extraordinary quantities of cocaine” and “willfully pursued a criminal lifestyle” as reflected in his 20 prior criminal convictions over the course of more than two decades for crimes that included drug trafficking, forgery and burglary.
Following a jury trial in February at which Wakil represented himself, he was found guilty of participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy and three counts of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute.
The three narcotics-possession counts were the result of three seizures between May and July 2011 in which more than 170 pounds of cocaine was seized during two traffic stops in Arizona, and in the interception of a 105-pound shipment that Wakil attempted to send to the East Coast via FedEx, according to federal prosecutors.
The first cocaine seizure came during a May 2011 traffic stop of Wakil’s car by officers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. After he was released from custody less than two months later, Wakil contacted his Los Angeles-based supplier and stated that he was “still moving,” despite the law enforcement seizures of his drugs and money, according to wiretapped phone calls played at his trial.
Wakil told his supplier at the time: “Let’s make the profits bigger,” according to the wiretap.
Prosecutors said Wakil engaged in “sophisticated means to conceal his activities,” and operated a phony Santa Clarita trucking company that he used to conceal his cocaine shipments and to make his drug proceeds appear to be legitimate.
In 2010 and 2011, law enforcement in the San Fernando Valley, Ohio and Maryland made three seizures of cash totaling more than $1.5 million from vehicles that Wakil was driving.
Prosecutors said that on each occasion, a trained narcotics detection canine gave a positive alert on the seized money.
Wakil was one of 22 defendants charged in June 2012 in two grand jury indictments with participating in a large-scale conspiracy to traffic cocaine. The conspiracy involved a drug-trafficking partnership between operatives in Mexico, Canada and the United States. Fourteen of the 22 defendants named in those indictments now have been convicted.
Both of the Los Angeles-based leaders of the conspiracy — Ichiro Tomatani-Guzman and Eduardo Olivares — pleaded guilty and each received 10- year prison terms.
Four Southland men charged in the case remain fugitives. They are:
— Rigoberto Ortega-Guzman, 60, of Downey;
— Fausto Medina, 42, of Lynwood;
— Mauricio Leon-Torres, 41, of Los Angeles; and
— Luis Cazarez-Beltran, 51, also of Downey.
— City News Service
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