Federal judge sentences Mexican cocaine smuggling ring members

Thirty-nine members of a large Mexican cocaine smuggling ring centered in metro Atlanta were sentenced as part of a two-year federal prosecution, court officials said.

Julio Cesar Avalos-Cerpas, 35, from Mexico, was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in federal prison -- the latest in the series of sentences handed down -- for his role as head of the drug distribution "cell," U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Patrick Crosby said.

Four individuals were convicted in federal court and 36 others gave guilty pleas, Crosby said. One suspect remains to be sentenced, while others were sentenced over the course of two years of trials.

The arrests are critical in a war on drug trafficking that has become a growing criminal industry in the Atlanta area, authorities say.

From November 2006 to December 2007, members of this trafficking organization used the metro area as a connection point for more than 7,000 kilograms of cocaine.

Ledgers seized from the organization showed that members collected at least $193 million in drug proceeds in the Atlanta areathat was funneled across the U.S./Mexican borders to pay cartel leaders.

During the investigation, federal agents seized more than $10 million in cash, 383 kilograms of cocaine, and 30 firearms, including assault rifles, shotguns and handguns with 30-round mangazines, officials said.

Five defendants -- Jaun Antonio Ramz-Sanchez, Jorge Luis Cordero-Pena, Jose Emmanuel Guadarrama, Ophelia Pineda, and Fnu Lnu, also known as “Licenciado,” remain fugitives.