Guatemalan Presidential Hopeful Arrested in Drug Plot

MANHATTAN (CN) – Two months out from Guatemala’s presidential elections, one of the candidates was arrested Wednesday in Miami on charges of conspiring with the Sinaloa drug cartel to import tons of cocaine into the U.S. and assassinate political rivals in a bid to secure millions of dollars to finance his election.

Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana is pictured here in a campaign photo from the Guatemalan presidential race.

In exchange for millions of dollars from the infamous drug-trafficking cartel, the candidate, Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana, 58, and an alleged accomplice, Juan Pablo Gonzalez Mayorga, 50,  offered to install the Sinaloa cartel’s choice of appointees to high-ranking positions of influence in the Guatemalan government that oversee the country’s police, military and ports, federal prosecutors said.

Estrada and Gonzalez were scheduled to appear Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman in Miami federal court on drug and weapons charges brought by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in the Southern District of New York. 

According to the 14-page criminal complaint, Estrada and Gonzalez agreed that if he was elected president, he would provide the cartel with “unfettered access” to Guatemalan airports and maritime shipping locations so the cartel could transport several tons of cocaine through Guatemala and ultimately into New York City.

Confidential sources involved in the investigation agreed to give Estrada a 10% cut of the profits earned from the sales of the cocaine smuggled by plane through Guatemalan airports, according to prosecutors.

Estrada and Gonzalez also allegedly directed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s confidential sources to hire hitmen to assassinate specific political rivals to ensure Estrada’s election, agreeing to provide AK-47 machine guns to carry out the targeted political murders.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Berman credited the DEA with building the case against Estrada and Gonzalez with the aid of the agency’s confidential sources.

“As further alleged, Estrada and Gonzalez attempted to arrange the assassinations of political rivals,” he said. “Thanks to the DEA, Estrada stands no chance of election in Guatemala, but he and Gonzalez face justice in the United States.”

If convicted, Estrada and Gonzalez face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum term of life imprisonment on two counts: conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and conspiring to use and carry machine guns and destructive devices in furtherance of the cocaine-importation conspiracy. 

The case is being handled by the Justice Department’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit, with Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mathew Laroche and Jason Richman at the helm of the prosecution in the Southern District of New York. 

Guatemala’s election is scheduled for June 16. Political corruption dominated the conversation during the country’s last election in 2015, amidst a bribery scandal that triggered massive public protests and the resignation and imprisonment of former President Otto Pérez Molina.

Former Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman faces a life sentence after a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted him on 10 criminal counts in February for his role in the cartel’s violent, decades-long drug-trafficking enterprise. 

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