EL PASO, Texas -- The kingpin of a major cocaine smuggling operations, accused of ferrying drugs into the United States across the shallow Rio Grande, was convicted on 18 counts of trafficking by a federal jury.
Jurors deliberated seven hours over two days before finding Audelio Arzola Amaya and five co-defendants, including two former police officers, guilty Friday.
Arzola Amaya was convicted on 18 counts of trafficking, including one count of continuous criminal activity. Prosecutors claim he was behind five cocaine shipments ranging in size from 263 to 414 pounds.
Drug Enforcement Administration agent Phil Jordan of Dallas called the Arzola smuggling ring one of the largest in the nation.
Testimony in the three-week trial indicated the Arzola ring brought large amounts of Colombian cocaine from Miami and Mexico into the Southwest.
A West Texas rancher told the jury he was paid $1,000 to open the gate to his ranch along the Rio Grande and permit pickup trucks loaded with cocaine to pass into the United States. His ranch is located on the U.S.-Mexico border 35 miles east of Fort Hancock.
Witnesses told stories of carrying suitcases full of money from El Paso to Miami to swap them there for cocaine. The government also presented evidence indicating large quantities of cocaine were transported from Mexico to California in propane tanks on pickup trucks.
Five other co-defendants also were convicted. Edward Maynard, a former El Paso police officer, was found guilty of one count of drug trafficking, and a former agent of the Juarez, Mexico, State Judicial Police, Jesus Estrada Hernandez, was found guilty of four counts.
Also convicted were Edison Alvarez, Jorge Humberto Salazar and Arzola Amaya's stepbrother, Santiago Rosas Arzola.
Another step-brother of Arzola, Jose Manuel Rosas Arzola, was scheduled to be tried later in Los Angeles, officials said.
Sentencing was set for Jan. 29 by U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth.