Federal law enforcement officials arrested nine people Wednesday in an effort to dismantle an alleged marijuana distribution and money-laundering scheme that stretched from Maryland to Arizona.
Federal prosecutors charged the nine people, including several Prince George’s County residents, with conspiring to distribute more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana and to conceal an estimated $950,000 in proceeds.
Since at least June 2011, Maryland prosecutors said, a Largo man coordinated shipments of marijuana to Maryland from a couple in Nogales, Ariz. Antonio Hill Jr., 32, was allegedly assisted by his brother, Erico Hill, 31, of Hyattsville.
In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, prosecutors allege that the Hills were helped by at least five others — James Lewis Jr., 22, of Hyattsville; Kenneth Davis, 24, of Hyattsville; Ernest Rawlings Jr., 29, of Riverdale; Errol Comma, 30, of Lanham; and Jane Nkemateh, 28, of New Carrollton — who allegedly received packages of marijuana and in some instances repackaged it for distribution throughout the state. The Arizona couple, Jose Valenzuela, 58, and Beatriz Valenzuela, 55, also have been charged.
The indictment says that the defendants allegedly used additional people to open bank accounts at several locations and then kept their financial transactions below $10,000 to try to avoid detection by the Internal Revenue Service.
A federal grand jury returned the indictment Monday, and it was made public after the defendants were arrested and later formally charged Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt.
In the second-floor courtroom of Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day, a large group of the Hills’s family and friends wept as the charges were read by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mara Zusman Greenberg.
Anthony D. Martin, an attorney for Erico Hill, declined to comment on the specific charges other than to note there is a “presumption of innocence” for each of the defendants.
According to prosecutors, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of life in prison for the drug charges and 20 years for the money-laundering charges.
Special agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit executed the arrest warrants, seven in Maryland and two in Arizona.
Prince George’s Police Chief Mark A. Magaw said in a joint statement that the work of the department’s narcotics investigators unraveled an “elaborate criminal scheme” and “will prevent untold amounts of illegal drugs from spreading across communities in our county.”