GULFPORT -- Two Orlando, Fla., men went to New York with $112,000 and a Rolex watch to buy 20 to 30 kilos of cocaine after discussing the deal in Harrison County, court papers show.
Federal prosecutors offered them a plea deal after the Jan. 27 arrest in Manhattan of a man identified as the lead defendant in the cocaine-trafficking conspiracy. Eight people have been indicted in the Southern District of Mississippi. Three of them remain at large.
Jael Pena-Vasquez, 30, pleaded guilty Wednesday to using a phone May 15, 2014, in Harrison County to further a conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He is a Dominican Republic native who has lived in the U.S. with permission since 2008 and was working at a car-rental company in Orlando, a legal document said.
Ernesto Castillo-Ramirez, 42, notified court officials Thursday of his intent to plead guilty to the same charge as Pena-Vasquez.
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Castillo-Ramirez also is a native of the Dominican Republic. He has lived in the U.S. with permission since 2006 and has told officials
he was self-employed, buying and selling cars.
Both were part of a reverse sting in 2014 while they were trying to buy up to 30 kilos of cocaine, according to the testimony of a Gulfport-based Homeland Security Investigations agent. The men were recorded meeting with a confidential informant in Gulfport and elsewhere.
They were headed to a meeting place in New York when they were arrested. Federal agents seized their money, the agent said, and both were released pending further investigation.
They were arrested again in May after a federal grand jury indicted them and six others. The Gulfport HSI agent went to Orlando to testify at their initial court appearances before they were brought to South Mississippi for prosecution. Both have remained in custody.
Amada Reyes, the lead defendant, was arrested Jan. 27 in Manhattan when he showed up for a drug-deal meeting -- with a New York City DEA agent.
Reyes, 46, also known as Amado Reyes, lives in Yonkers, N.Y.
The agent had met Reyes several times, and texted and phoned him Jan. 26 to arrange the meeting in Manhattan the next day.
A New York magistrate judge gave Reyes a $150,000 bond requiring two co-signers., and ordered Reyes to appear Feb. 10 in federal court in Gulfport.
Pena-Vasquez will be sentenced April 21 by Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola. He faces up to four years in prison, a year's probation and a fine of up to $250,000.
Castillo-Ramirez faces the same penalties. A date has not been set for his change-of-plea hearing.
All eight co-defendants were indicted on a drug-trafficking charge, punishable by 10 years to life in prison.
About the others
Also indicted were Jose Rosado, 41, of Orlando; Tatyana Monge, 34, of New York City; and Ramon Castillo, Felix Portes and Josue Perez-Sanchez, who have not been taken into custody.
Rosado and Perez-Sanchez also were indicted on a charge of attempt to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine involving an alleged incident July 10, 2014.
Rosado has been offered a deal on a drug offense in Harrison County, also July 10, 2014.
Guirola dismissed charges against Monge on Jan. 27.
The trial, which had been set for this month, has been rescheduled for April.