The war on drugs has cost us millions in ways we could never have imagined. Take, for example, the father-son team that played a critical role in the drug trafficking prosecution of Venezuela’s first lady’s nephews.
Over several years, it is estimated that the U.S. government and law enforcement agencies gave about $1 million to Jose Santos-Pena (55), and hundreds of thousands more to his son, Jose Santos-Hernandez (34) for information about drug traffickers.
During this time, the two traveled to several countries to make secret recordings of people suspected of being involved in drug trafficking. Included was Venezuela, where Santos-Pena recorded the two nephews of first lady Cilia Flores handling a block of cocaine.
In April, prosecutors learned that the duo were involved with drug trafficking themselves, including the time they were working for the DEA.
Late last summer, before the Flores’ nephews even went to trial, Santos-Hernandez and Santos-Pena plead guilty to trafficking charges, and admitted to dealing drugs for four years under the money umbrella of the DEA. This was happening while they were working on the case in Venezuela.
The case against first lady nephews Francisco Flores (31), and his cousin Efrain Campo (30), stayed active, however. They were accused of conspiring to ship more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the U.S.
And Santos-Pena had other nefarious activities to report. At a hearing in September, he confessed to prosecutors that he twice hired a prostitute during his trip to Caracas, Venezuela last year. In addition, he permitted his son’t friend to listen in on some DEA-organized meetings with the Venezuela nephews. He also stated that he had used cocaine regularly while working for the DEA.
After the recordings were played for jurors, a prosecutor told Santos-Pena that his lies meant that the government was nullifying a cooperation agreement that would have ensured him leniency. Without the agreement, he faces a minimum 10 years in prison, up to a life maximum.
Despite the trouble with their star witness, prosecutors celebrated when the jury returned a guilty verdict against the nephews last Friday.
About The Venezuela Case
Two nephews of Cilia Flores, Venezuela first lady were found guilty last Friday. Their attempt to carry out a multimillion dollar drug deal was orchestrated in order to obtain money they believed they needed to keep their family in power.
Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores were convicted in Manhattan, by a federal jury, of conspiracy to import cocaine into the U.S. The jury, which consisted of five men and seven women, delivered the verdict after six hours of deliberation.
The case was just one of many in which U.S. prosecutors have tied individuals in the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking. The two nephews were arrested in Haiti in November, 2015, and were extradicted to the U.S. following the DEA sting operation.
For sentencing, they face up to life in prison. Their lawyers, however, stated that they planned to file post-trial motions challenging the convictions.
According to prosecutors, the pair intended to use a presidential hangar in the Venezuelan airport to traffick 800 kilos of cocaine to Honduras, which would then be shipped into the U.S. They also claimed the nephews wanted the money to counteract funds they thought the U.S. was supplying to the opposition before the National Assembly elections.
The defense maintained that neither of the two were sophisticated enough to have successfully completed such a large scale drug transaction, and that they were not planning on having drugs shipped into the U.S.
No representatives of the Venezuela government have of yet commented on the trial or the verdict.
Cocaine Production And Use
According to the DEA’s 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Report, most of the cocaine available in the U.S. is produced in Columbia. However, Peru is the top producer of exported cocaine in the world, followed by Columbia at #2.
The majority of Peruvian cocaine is transported to Asian or European markets.
Government estimates indicate a 30% increase in potential pure cocaine production in Columbia between 2013-2014, from 185 to 245 metric tons. In addition, potential pure cocaine production increased in Peru during the same perioid, from 265 to 285 metric tons.
On a positive note, the use of cocaine has been on the decline since 2007, and reflects the overall decreased availability of the drug in the U.S. According to the 2013 National Survey On Drug Use And Health, an estimated 601,000 persons age 12 and old used cocaine for the first time in the past year. That number was similar to 2008-2012 estimates, but much lower than estimates from 2002-2007, in which nearly one million were reported.
Conversely, heroin has become an increased threat in the U.S. since 2007. It has become more widely available, is used by a larger number of people, and is responsible for more overdose deaths. The demand for heroin has been driven by both increased availability of the drug, as well as prescription drug-dependent users who turn to heroin when they can no longer obtaint their drug of choice.