Two Springfield residents allegedly participated in a cocaine ring which smuggled the drug into Northern Virginia, distributed it across the East Coast, then wired more than $1 million back to suppliers in Honduras over several years.
Twenty-eight people were charged with conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine in connection with the case, officials from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigations announced Wednesday.
The charge carries a minimum mandatory of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Peter Carr said.
Joel Lopez, 41, and Gloria Elena Olivia Castro, 25, both of Springfield, Va., were arrested by law enforcement for allegedly distributing the cocaine.
According to case documents, those charged — largely Honduran immigrants who have lived in Northern Virginia for the past seven years — hired couriers to smuggle cocaine to the U.S., usually through wooden shoes or picture frames. Couriers carried luggage to conceal the items, such as food, clothing and Honduras-related trinkets, that would blend in with the contraband cargo, according to case documents.
Once in the country, the leaders of the ring would distribute the drug across Northern Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and North Carolina; often, packages would be handed off between several couriers before reaching street-level dealers and sellers, according to the documents.
Each shoe typically contained 1.5 ounces of cocaine; frames could hold up to three. Agents have collected more than five kilograms of suspected cocaine, according to the documents.
The ring was first discovered in a search of one leader's home in August 2011. Officials, including those from the Fairfax County Police Department, went on to conduct a number of searches and controlled purchases from leaders, including Barrera. Some of the sales occurred at private homes, while others happened across the county. Informants told the agents handoffs or sales often occurred at a particular Jiffy Lube; its exact location was not included in case documents.
For the past six years, some members of the conspiracy, employed at the Eden Center in Falls Church, have received cocaine to sell at the shopping plaza. In August, officers with the Northern Virginia Gang Task Force raided the Eden Center in Falls Church looking for illegal gambling machines. Fourteen of the 19 people charged in that investigation were not convicted.
Agents traced the ring to Honduras in part through wire taps on six cell phones, including two of Barrera's, since February.
Officials are still monitoring some of those phones as part of the ongoing investigation.
Information discovered during the investigation also revealed possible distribution of crack cocaine, money laundering and various firearm offenses.
Carr said there are no additional charges related to those offenses at this time. The defendants have yet to be indicted, which a grand jury must do for the case to go to trial, Carr said.
They will remain in custody pending their preliminary and detention hearings next week, scheduled for either Monday or Tuesday, Carr said.