CONCORD, N.H. – Federal prosecutors in New Hampshire are preparing to try three men linked to a notorious Mexican drug cartel on charges of conspiring to distribute 1,000 kilograms of cocaine in a case that spans the globe.
Manuel Jesus Guttierez Guzman, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela and Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela were arrested in the port city of Algeciras, Spain, 13 months ago. Prosecutors say they are members of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel based in Mexico.
Zazueta Valenzuela fought extradition and is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Concord on Tuesday for the first time after being flown from Spain over the weekend.
A fourth defendant arrested in Spain, Jesus Soto, will be tried separately.
U.S. District Judge Joseph LaPlante tentatively scheduled the trial to begin in early December after hearing arguments last week from lawyers for Guzman and Celaya Valenzuela that the cases should be tried separately.
LaPlante signaled that he is reluctant to sever the cases.
“The law presumes that co-conspirators will be tried together,” he told the lawyers.
Three others named in the indictment remain at large, including Joaquin Guzman-Loera – known as “el Chapo” – the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Since escaping prison in 2001, officials say Guzman-Loera has run the cartel from a series of hideouts and safe houses across Mexico, earning billions of dollars moving tons of cocaine and other drugs to the United States. He has been indicted in numerous states besides New Hampshire.
“He’s believed to be somewhere in the hills of Mexico,” Deputy U.S. Attorney Donald Feith said last week. “The world is looking for him.”
Guttierez Guzman is the cartel chief’s cousin and during numerous meetings with undercover agents over the course of the two-year investigation held himself out as a direct representative of his cousin, investigators say.
Authorities said the investigation began in 2009 when a link to the cartel was discovered in Massachusetts. Undercover FBI agents posed as members of a European drug trafficking organization and held numerous meetings with the four men in Spain, Mexico and the United States. Two of those meetings, according to court documents, took place in New Castle and Portsmouth.
During the meetings, authorities say, Guttierez Guzman boasted that European distribution routes would initially involve shipments of 20 tons of cocaine at a time.
The cartel in July 2011 sent test shipments of pineapples and plantains from South America to Spain, then followed up with 750 pounds of cocaine, which was intercepted by police, officials said.
The four defendants are being held without bond. All but Zazueta Valenzuela – who has yet to appear in a U.S. courtroom – have entered not guilty pleas.
New Hampshire’s U.S. Attorney, John Kacavas, said last year in announcing that putting the defendants on trial in New Hampshire epitomizes law enforcement in the 21st century.
“It isn’t constrained by boundaries, state or international,” Kacavas said. “We have to work with law enforcement agencies across the country and across the world in order to stem the tide of these drug trafficking organizations shipping their poison to our streets.”