Five members of the D.C.-area 18th Street gang have been acquitted on major drug charges in Alexandria federal court after defense attorneys argued their clients were lured into the scheme by federal agents.
Those agents, working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, staged an elaborate sham drug deal for the group’s benefit. Posing as traffickers from Miami, earlier this year they flew a plane full of fake cocaine into a small airport in Northern Virginia. There, agents posing as drug runners picked up the sham cocaine, separated it into duffel bags and pretended to drive it north to New Jersey.
The agents offered the group $15,000 and a quarter of a kilogram of cocaine in exchange for picking up, storing and delivering 20 kilograms of the drug from their next flight.
Defense attorneys told the jury that if not for that offer, the five defendants would not have been involved in the drug trade at all. None of them have any known experience with illegal drugs.
“What we’re dealing with are crimes of fiction,” Dontae LaMont Bugg said during closing arguments.
Diego Escobar, Franklin Omar Avalos Munguia and Ever Ernesto Castill Arevalo were acquitted on all charges.
Two defendants were acquitted of the drug charges but convicted on other counts. Gerson Rodriguez Carranza was found guilty of possessing a firearm as an illegal immigrant. Jimmy Mayorga-Alvarez was found guilty of the same crime, as well as possession of ammunition.
A sixth defendant, Carmen Dominguez, is being tried separately.
According to court documents, the operation was linked to an investigation into drug and firearms trafficking in Northern Virginia, particularly along the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax County.