Guatemalan National is Extradited on International Cocaine Trafficking and Maritime Smuggling Charges
SAN DIEGO – Suspected drug trafficker Rafael Orlando Ramirez Barillas, a Guatemalan national who was extradited to the United States from Guatemala on Thursday, February 10, 2022 to face international cocaine trafficking and maritime smuggling charges in the Southern District of California, appeared in federal court today and was ordered detained pending trial.
Ramirez Barillas, aka “Thor,” is charged in an indictment stemming from a long-term joint investigation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego.
Ramirez Barillas is charged with operating a conspiracy to distribute five kilograms and more of cocaine in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico and elsewhere, knowing and intending that the cocaine would be unlawfully imported into the United States. Ramirez Barillas is also charged with being in a conspiracy to distribute five kilograms and more of cocaine on board a vessel.
Ramirez Barillas made his initial court appearance on Friday, February 11, 2022 in San Diego before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal. This afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Skomal ordered Ramirez Barillas detained pending trial.
According to court documents and statements made by prosecutors at today’s hearing, Ramirez Barillas was alleged to be the partner of convicted Guatemalan drug trafficker Luis Carlos Melgar-Morales, aka “Aquaman,” who admitted to distributing over 10,000 kilograms of cocaine during an approximately two-year conspiracy. Ramirez Barillas was described as an organizer and leader in the conspiracy to distribute cocaine in Guatemala and several other South and Central American countries. As part of the conspiracy, and as alleged in the indictment and set forth in other public documents, Ramirez Barillas and his co-conspirators coordinated the smuggling of multi-ton quantities of cocaine from South America to Guatemala with an ultimate destination of the United States.
During the investigation, the United States Coast Guard made multiple seizures of cocaine from vessels on international waters that were linked to Ramirez Barillas and his co-conspirators. According to the indictment, the conspiracy began on a date unknown and continued up to and including November 2018.
On July 17, 2021, Ramirez Barillas was arrested in Guatemala pursuant to an extradition request from the United States. Guatemala subsequently granted his extradition, and on February 10, 2022, Ramirez Barillas was extradited to United States.
“This case, including last week’s extradition, demonstrates the success DEA and our law enforcement partners have had targeting foreign drug sources of supply,” said Special Agent in Charge Shelly S. Howe. “DEA will continue to seize large quantities of drugs before they reach our shores and devastate our communities. Our strong relationships with our foreign counterparts allow us to bring drug suppliers to justice in the United States.”
“This office is committed to aggressively pursuing drug traffickers in Central America who use international waters as a corridor to smuggle cocaine to the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “This extradition marks the culmination of years of efforts by agents and prosecutors to keep those who flood the United States with cocaine accountable for their actions.”
“This extradition demonstrates the need to continue to work together with our foreign partners to disrupt drug trafficking,” said Chad Plantz, Special Agent in Charge for HSI San Diego. “This effort also resulted in significant seizures of the transnational criminal organization’s narcotics, firearms, and illicit proceeds, and led to the identification of additional high-ranking members. HSI will remain committed in our investigative efforts to bring additional members of this organization to justice.”
“This indictment resulted from our collaborative efforts to disrupt transnational criminal organizations and prevent illicit drugs from making their way to the United States,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. “I am grateful for the hard work of the dedicated women and men of the Department of Justice and the Southern District of California who built this case alongside Coast Guard ships and crews involved in several interdiction cases in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, dismantling smuggling organizations, putting smugglers behind bars and keeping drugs off our streets. I hope our Coast Guard crews conducting counterdrug patrols today in the Pacific Ocean see the effects of this monumental occasion. I cannot thank the Southern District of California enough for their efforts to ensure justice is served to those seeking to harm our country.”
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of Ramirez Barillas.
AGENCIES: United States Attorney’s Office; Homeland Security Investigations; Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Coast Guard; HSI Attaché Guatemala City, Guatemala; HSI Attaché Mexico City Mexico; Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs; Department of Justice, Office of Enforcement Operations; Joint Task Force-Investigations; Joint Interagency Task Force-South