ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WRIC) — A member of an infamous Honduran drug cartel was the latest in his organization to plead guilty to drug trafficking on Thursday, Sept. 8, as he admitted wrongdoing in an Alexandria courtroom.
Rafael Antonio Pineda Santos is the seventh member of the Los Valles organization to plead guilty, and he will face at least 10 years in federal prison, though final sentencing won’t be decided until January.
According to information agreed to by Santos as part of his plea agreement, he served in an intelligence role for Los Valles, warning leadership of potential raids and other police activity.
Miguel Arnulfo Valle Valle and Luis Alonso Valle Valle, the leaders of Los Valles, paid Santos to “provide information about the status of possible law enforcement cooperators and pending law enforcement actions.”
Santos maintained an “extensive network” to provide that information, which helped Los Valles conceal shipments of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine that they moved from sources in South America, refined in Honduran laboratories and then smuggled into the United States.
Los Valles employed two main routes to get their shipments of cocaine over the border. The first was with the cooperation of Mexican cartels, which used their own extensive network to move the product across the border.
The second was by employing individuals to move smaller amounts directly into the Untied States. These mules “would travel on commercial airliners with the cocaine secreted inside wooden frames, shoes and other seemingly innocuous items.”
In one instance in 2014, ahead of a series of raids by Honduran police, Santos tipped off Los Valles, helping them avoid the worst of the crackdown. Afterwards, Luis Alonso texted Santos, “Thank god you got them out of there.”
Santos also repeatedly uncovered the identities of police informants. In one instance, he made a cash payment of $1,500 to an informant who singled out an individual who had cooperated with police.
Santos and other members of Los Valles were investigated and charged as the result of a joint operation by the Sacramento and Washington field offices of the FBI.