Rex woman gets 22 years for moving meth into U.S. aboard cargo ships

TAMPA. FLORIDA – U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday today sentenced Yolanda Herrera (43, Rex, GA) to 22 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, and attempted possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin.

Herrera had pleaded guilty on June 4, 2020.

According to court documents, between October 24, 2018, and March 18, 2019, Herrera organized and coordinated the shipment of numerous containers of methamphetamine and heroin aboard the cargo ship Leticia, which repeatedly traveled from Altamira, Mexico, to the Port of Tampa.

On or about March 11, 2019, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents at the Port of Tampa inspected a container onboard the Leticia that, according to the ship’s manifest, contained stone blocks, typically used for the building of stone fountains. Agents from Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) imaged the blocks and observed that several of them contained anomalies. After breaching the blocks, the agents uncovered 14 large packages that had been shrink-wrapped with black carbon paper, which contained more than 50 kilograms of methamphetamine and 3 kilograms of heroin.

On March 15, 2019, HSI agents observed the blocks being loaded into a yellow rental truck. They then followed the truck as it exited the Port of Tampa and continued to Atlanta, Georgia. On March 16, 2019, at approximately 10:00 a.m., agents arrested two Mexican nationals, Nestor Vazquez-Morales and Adan Martinez-Onofre, as they attempted to offload the truck outside a residential home.

Agents searched Vazquez-Morales’s residence in Georgia and seized approximately two kilograms of heroin, three firearms (including a rifle), $12,725 in U.S. currency, and one stone block that was identical to the blocks discovered in the Port of Tampa. Next to the stone block, agents found some clear plastic wrapping that contained a square white sticker with black letters displaying the message “Hecho en Mexico” (Made in Mexico). This same sticker was also found on the narcotics from March 11, 2019.

Cellphones obtained from the individuals showed that Herrera, who flew from Tampa to Atlanta after the shipment arrived in Tampa, was actively planning and coordinating the pickup of the narcotics from the port to their eventual destination.

Between October 2018 and March 2019, Herrera rented six other trucks. During that time, Herrera’s co-conspirators completed seven shipments on the Leticia, all of which departed from Mexico, arrived in Tampa, and were identified as stone fountains in the cargo manifest. GPS data obtained from the rental trucks show that the trucks were all rented in Tampa, and dropped off in Atlanta, with stops at the same Atlanta residence.

On September 18, 2019, Herrera was arrested in Atlanta. During an interview with law enforcement, she admitted that she had been hired and paid to coordinate, supervise, and organize the transportation of narcotics sent from Mexico to Tampa, and deliver them to Georgia. Federal agents searched Herrera’s home and found a stone block in her backyard. That stone block contained the same “Hecho en Mexico” sticker as the stone blocks shipped on the Leticia.

In July 2020, Nestor Vazquez-Morales and Adan Martinez-Onofre were sentenced to federal prison terms of 15 years and 8 months and 5 years and 10 months, respectively, for their roles in this case.

“Narcotics trafficking poses a deadly threat, bringing in dangerous and addictive drugs and related criminal activity to our communities,” said HSI Tampa acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Sibley. “Our HSI special agents are deeply committed to working with our law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking efforts in our communities.”

This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Diego F. Novaes.

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