Head of heroin, meth distribution operation in Utah sentenced to 12 years in prison

Posted at 2:51 PM, Feb 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-26 16:51:51-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A man who pleaded guilty to charges relating to drugs and money laundering was sentenced to 144 months in prison Thursday afternoon, and the man admitted to distributing about 10.5 kilograms of heroin and 10.7 kilograms of meth over the course of several months.

Lorenzo Verduzco-Benitez, 28 of West Jordan and a citizen of Mexico, pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah.

The man admitted to overseeing a drug operation in Utah between July 1 of 2014 and March 6 of 2015, and he used surrogates to deposit drug money into bank accounts to pay his suppliers–a method that allowed him to conceal and disguise the nature, source and ownership of those funds.

An investigation began after a tip from a confidential source, and police determined Verduzco-Benitez had distributors in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Michigan. Police intercepted “significant” loads of drugs on several occasions and made several controlled purchases from the organization.

Verduzco-Benitez and five others were charged for their roles in the conspiracy.

Ernesto Vega, 29 of West Jordan, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance and conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to 72 months in federal prison.

Jorge Aquino Andrade, 44 of Salt Lake City, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin and money laundering and will be sentenced March 1. His plea agreement stipulates a 60 month sentence.

Miquel Escobedo-Mendoza, 24 of West Valley City, pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with the intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, and he was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison.

Melissa Cervantes, 24 of Salt Lake City, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and was sentenced to 1 year in prison.

Elvira Damian, 50 of West Jordan, is a fugitive at this time.

The press release notes that several of the defendants are citizens of Mexico who will be referred to ICE for deportation proceedings once their prison sentences are finished.

Verduzco-Benitez agreed to forfeit $11,231 in cash and a Cobra Enterprise .380 semi-automatic handgun as part of the plea deal.