Of 67 Years In Prison
A Johnson City man was convicted Thursday of multiple drug-related counts following a three-day jury trial in U.S. District Court in Greeneville, according to a news release from William C. Killian, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Mario Hernandez Velazquez, 44, was convicted on all 13 counts charged, including cocaine conspiracy and distribution, being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm and ammunition, using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.
Velazquez faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 67 years, court officials said. Sentencing is set for Jan. 8, 2013.
Velazquez was part of a conspiracy involving 36 individuals responsible for the distribution of several kilograms of cocaine per month in the Tri-Cities area over an extended period of time, prosecutors said.
Law enforcement agents executed a search warrant at the residence of Velazquez in October 2010 and found quantities of cocaine, a firearm, ammunition and digital scales.
Prosecutors said that on five separate occasions, over a period of approximately eight months, Velazquez sold cocaine or assisted in the sale of cocaine to an individual working on behalf of law enforcement.
During the transactions, Velazquez admitted he was the firearms dealer for the organization and was always armed.
According to trial testimony, on one transaction, Velazquez told the individual that someone broke into his residence and stole two kilograms of cocaine.
As a result, he routinely packed his cocaine and guns in a suitcase and took it with him whenever he left home.
In a subsequent transaction, Velazquez told the informant that if someone came to rob him again, he would "blow them to hell," and "not many idiots are going to withstand two or three bullets."
Law enforcement agents made more than 100 cocaine buys from the various individuals in this conspiracy, according to the news release.
The investigation concluded with the execution of 13 search warrants at various locations in Johnson City, Kingsport and Knoxville.
During these searches, agents found approximately 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, 200 pounds of marijuana and a significant quantity of firearms and ammunition.
Currently, 33 of the defendants have been sentenced.
"We are pleased with the jury's verdict. Our prosecutors and the federal and state law enforcement agencies working on this case did a tremendous job of obtaining and presenting the evidence in this case," U.S. Attorney Killian said in the news release.
"We were able to show the scope of the drug distribution activities of the organization, including the use and threatened use of firearms that often attaches to the illegal distribution of drugs.
"I want to thank all those involved in bringing Mr. Velazquez to justice," Killian said.
A multi-agency law enforcement investigation led to the indictment and conviction of members of the conspiracy.
The case was part of the U.S. Department of Justice Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the HIDTA programs.