3 admitted drug smugglers who hauled cocaine on private jet from Mexico to Gary get light sentences

The alleged cartel operatives cut a deal, invoking what's called the "safety valve" sentencing provisions

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel WLS logo
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
3 drug smugglers who flew coke into Gary get light sentences
Three drug traffickers who repeatedly flew jet loads of cocaine into the Gary, Indiana airport have made what can only be considered a soft landing.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Three admitted drug smugglers who hauled cocaine into metro Chicago aboard a private jet will serve far less time in federal prison than the mandatory minimum sentence requires.

The drug traffickers, who repeatedly flew jet loads of cocaine into the Gary, Indiana airport, have made what can only be considered a soft landing.

They have all invoked a special federal sentencing provision that allows far less prison time, even when the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years.

The I-Team first reported last fall when a private jet landed at the airport and unloaded a supply of cocaine from Mexico: more than 175 pounds of wrapped drug bricks packed into fancy metal suitcases.

The plane from Mexico had cleverly been cleared through customs in Texas, according to investigators, and then was airborne to Chicago's backdoor gateway of Gary.

From there, the drug operatives, believed to be cartel hires, were met by ground transport and proceeded directly to Chicago's Gold Coast.

But U.S. drug agents were already onto the cocaine crew. The three men were arrested and charged in a drug conspiracy case, where they faced up to life in prison and a mandatory minimum 10 years behind bars.

But all three cut a deal, pleading guilty and invoking what's called the "safety valve" sentencing provisions. They were given sentences of three years, three and a half years and five years.

ABC7 legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Gil Soffer explained, "I think the idea behind the safety valve is it's a recognition that the interests of justice in some cases are best served by going a little bit easier on the defendant than the mandatory minimum required and those are cases where the defendant has no meaningful career criminal history was not involved in a violent offense and is prepared to give all the information he knows to the government."

Ed Farrell, a former deputy U.S. Marshal in Chicago, told the I-Team drug dealing at any level is a direct threat to public safety.

"It sends the wrong message to these cartels," Farrell said. "You know, being lenient on them is not a deterrent. These guys are always looking to push the limits. When you let them out early, it just encourages more bad behavior. You need to send them a message."

"They know they're dealing narcotics illegally. They know the distribution networks. They know there could be violence down the road and there could be people cutting their product with fentanyl leading to deaths," said Farrell.

Defendants are allowed safety valve reduced sentences if they meet five criteria, including little criminal history, no guns or violence and turning over information on the charged crime.

In these cases, prosecutors were asking for more significant prison time than what the three traffickers eventually received.

In the most recent sentencing just last week where the government wanted 11 years, Judge Matthew Kennelly handed down five.

There has been no comment from the U.S. Attorney's office.