A Guatemalan man who purchased airplanes in Virginia for the international trafficking of tons of cocaine was sentenced to just under 22 years in prison this morning.
Fernando Chang Monroy, 37, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine on board an aircraft registered in the U.S. The twin-engine, turbo-prop airplanes were used to transport more than a ton of cocaine from an airfield in Venezuela to Honduras.
"As far as I can tell, it's the biggest drug case that has ever come before a Richmond court," said Erik S. Siebert, an assistant U.S. attorney told U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. "I will concede the defendant is not at the top of the food chain at all. But he was dealing with them," Seibert added.
The government sought a 21-year, 11-month prison term, at the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines, citing Chang Monroy's lack of a prior criminal record and his decision not to fight extradition from Guatemala and to plead guilty which allowed authorities to not reveal confidential sources or methods used in the case.
Hudson told Chang Monroy, "I do find that you are a significant player in a major conspiracy to import huge amounts of cocaine into the United States ... it's a disturbingly serious offense."
When he was arrested in Guatemala City last year, Chang Monroy was armed with two handguns. Speaking through an interpreter this morning, the father of three told Hudson, "From the moment I was arrested I knew that I had been wrong, I wanted to accept my guilt."
"I am very sorry because I hurt so many people with drugs (that entered) the United States," said Chang Monroy. He also apologized to his family and to Hudson moments before he was sentenced.
Earlier one of his lawyers, Dennis N. Urbano, of Miami, unsuccessfully sought a sentence below the guidelines arguing that his client did not play an organizing or leadership role in the conspiracy, but rather a broker or middleman.
"My client has done everything right that he absolutely could to show remorse," said Urbano.
The two Beechcraft King Airs were purchased somewhere in the federal Eastern District of Virginia. Chang Monroy admitted that the first one was sold to a Honduran drug trafficking organization for a percentage of the profit from 1,000 kilograms of cocaine transported aboard it in 2013 Venezuela, to Honduras.
The second airplane was sold to a Colombian drug trafficking organization. In 2014 it was flown to Venezuela and loaded with 1,000 kilograms of cocaine. But the pilots refused to take off despite assurances of a safe departure after seeing Venezuelan military aircraft overhead. The cocaine was taken off the aircraft and the aircraft was destroyed.
In pleading guilty, Chang Monroy also admitted to finding pilots and altering one of the aircraft to facilitate the smuggling. He also arranged for the safe passage of the aircraft through Venezuelan air space via corrupt radar operators.
It is apparently the first such prosecution in the Eastern District of Virginia. Authorities said the large used aircraft market in the U.S. plays a key role in international drug trafficking by providing an inexpensive and relatively safe way for large trafficking organizations to move drugs.
The case was investigated by the DEA, IRS and FBI, as well as police in Hanover County, Chesterfield County and Richmond, and the Virginia State Police.