Chicago

3 alleged cartel operatives arrested at Gary airport expected to plead guilty

CHICAGO (WLS) — It’s been a long layover for three suspected drug cartel operatives surprised by federal agents at the Gary, Indiana airport last November. And it could get longer.

Court records reviewed by the I-Team show all three, who’ve been behind bars for almost a year, are angling toward guilty pleas.

The possible plea deals are expected to be laid out Friday and next week.

Last November at Gary Airport, a private jet registered in Mexico arrived with 220 lbs. of cocaine packed inside several suitcases and transferred to a waiting SUV, according to U.S. drug agents.

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Former federal marshal in Chicago, Ed Farrell, originally reviewed the case for the I-Team and said drug operatives always look for back doors such as Gary, Indiana.

“They went to a further away airport, which tells me there’s less scrutiny,” he said.

There was no inspection of the alleged drug ferrying plane, according to Gary officials, because it had cleared customs in Houston after a flight from Toluca, Mexico.

The plane traveled from Mexico to Texas to Gary on several occasions, and authorities said they had it under surveillance.

Aviation website FlightAware has publicly-snapped photos of the jet at several airports in the U.S. and Mexico.

Among those onboard the $8 million dollar jet: 30-year-old Mexican national Sebastian Vazquez- Gamez; 25-year-old Alexis Jimenez-Perez of Columbus, Indiana; and 39-year-old Sergio Ivan Blas.

“It’s unusual for three high-ranking drug operatives to be caught in the first instance. Those are not easy operations,” said ABC 7 legal analyst Gil Soffer. “So yes, it’s unusual to see this kind of played with what appears to be coming. These kinds of plea deals coming this quickly.”

Agents said sales ledgers reveal hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug deals.

It is not known whether prosecutors will achieve cooperation by the accused drug operatives.

Soffer explained, “It often occurs, especially when the people that they’re apprehending and charging are low level. These people are pretty high level and it’s very unclear whether there’s anybody above them against whom they would be cooperating.”

A legal source familiar with the case said this long layover for at least one of the drug defendants could be 10 years in prison and then deportation to Mexico.

That less-than-ideal kind of outcome may have been enough to prompt guilty pleas by all three men.

It’s likely they will get some time shaved off their sentences, and that at sentencing they will be portrayed as low-level mules and not high-raking cartel operatives.

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