Marllory Chacon Rossell pleaded guilty on December 12, 2014 to drug trafficking charges in Miami, but she had been collaborating with the DEA and the US Attorney's Office in Florida since 2012. It remains to be seen who she has named and if this act of contrition will reduce her sentence.
The Guatemalan drug trafficker Marllory Dadiana Chacon Rossell is in purgatory. No one knows yet if she is in the waiting room for heaven or for hell. She could be given a light sentence, or she could spend up to four decades in prison. At 43 years old, the possibility that Chacon will grow old behind bars is in play.
The fact that Chacon handed herself over to US authorities on September 10, 2014 and that she pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in a Miami court last December means she has betrayed important accomplices. In fact, her court file, number 11-20582-CR-MARTINEZ, reveals that she has communicated with US authorities since 2012. In March of this year, the file revealed that Chacon will be sentenced on May 5. That day will define her future.
In January 2012, the US Treasury Department reported that Chacon had worked as a supplier for various Mexican drug cartels. The Treasury classified her as "the most active money launderer in Guatemala," and one of the most prolific drug traffickers in all of Central America. In addition, the Treasury identified Chacon's husband as an accomplice, along with the Honduran Jorge Fernandez Carbajal; the Colombian Cesar Barrera, alias "Nigua"; and the Guatemalan Hayron Borrayo Lasmibat along with his wife, Mirza Hernandez.
Several local media outlets have revealed alleged links between Chacon and Borrayo and President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. There are even accusations the drug traffickers gave $2 million dollars to the political party Partido Patriota in 2011 for campaigns. Baldetti has denied meeting Chacon, and Chacon has insisted she met the Vice President, but that the two maintain no relationship.
Headquarters of the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida
In 2012, Guatemala's Attorney General's Office announced that it had not found any evidence against Chacon, and the National Civil Police (PNC) confirmed that they were not investigating her. Nevertheless, the US Department of Justice referred to her as a "fugitive." In 2015, after Chacon had pleaded guilty, Guatemala's Interior Minister, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, said there were in fact several cases open against her for drug trafficking, but gave no further details.
In June 2012, one of Chacon's accomplices, the Colombian Cesar Barrera, told the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that he wanted to "amply" collaborate with authorities. Public court documents do not reveal if he implicated Chacon, or if his collaboration facilitated the September 2012 capture of drug trafficker Daniel "El Loco" Barrera in Venezuela. Authorities described "El Loco" Barrera, an associate of another one of Chacon's accomplices, as one of Colombia's biggest drug capos.
The DEA's Trailing of Chacon
Chacon coordinated the receipt, purchase, transport, and distribution of multiple tons of cocaine headed for the United States. The DEA began following Chacon in November 2008, and began investigating her after receiving information about her from various informants. These include incarcerated drug traffickers who cooperated with US authorities and also helped locate Chacon's co-conspirators in Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, among other countries.
A confidential source told the US Attorney's Office in Florida that between 2008 and 2009, Chacon orchestrated the receipt of two cocaine shipments of 1,200 kilos from Honduras. One group, identified as "the Caracoles," transported the drugs to Guatemala, "to be later distributed to a Mexican cartel."
The document stated that while the confidential source was working with Chacon, she laundered $4 million dollars in drug proceeds in Guatemala and Panama.
The Caracoles do not appear in the US Justice Department's public archive, nor in US State Department cables between 2008 and 2010 published by Wikileaks. But it is believed the group operated along Honduras' northern coast, where Hondurans call residents of African descent with English or other European roots "caracoles" (snails).
Borrayo and Cesar Barrera appear in the court document 11-20512-Criminal-King, a distinct accusation from that against Chacon, from a court in the Southern District of Florida. Nevertheless, they had both been designated by the US Treasury, and shared a similar modus operandi. Between 2008 and 2009, Cesar Barrera was the representative of a drug trafficking organization in Colombia. According to his lawyer, Jay Allen White, he did not transport or negotiate the price of drugs. But, according to the US Attorney's Office in Florida, Cesar Barrera was "the eyes and ears" for his Colombian bosses in Guatemala and Mexico. He supervised the reception of drug shipments sent from Venezuela via Honduras, and their distribution to Mexican drug cartel the Zetas (who the US has linked to Chacon).
Court document describing the role of Colombian trafficker Cesar Barrera
"Cesar Barrera's role required him to meet very high-level people face-to-face," prosecutor Monique Botero said at a hearing (according to court documents). "He spoke with Guatemalan and Mexican drug traffickers, to assure them that the cocaine would arrive, and ensure that they were satisfied with the deal." Two of those traffickers were Borrayo and Chacon.
Cesar Barrera played his intermediary role until, in May 2009, his bosses sent less cocaine to the Zetas than was agreed upon. The Zetas kidnapped Barrera near the Guatemala-Mexico border, in order to kill him. He escaped, although he was shot in the head and in the back after a confrontation between his kidnappers and the Mexican soldiers who liberated him. Barrera fled to Colombia, where he announced years later that he would hand himself over to the DEA. But his leaving Guatemala did not stop Borrayo and Chacon's drug trafficking operations.
A confidential source and former associate of Chacon -- registered in the court document as CS-2 -- told the US Attorney's Office that he or she was involved in three aerial drug shipments. The source revealed that Chacon organized the arrival of the drugs in Honduras, and owned a part of the shipment, 300 kilos worth. The last drug shipment CS-2 participated in was in November 2010. The document stated that while the source was working with Chacon, she laundered $4 million dollars in drug proceeds in Guatemala and Panama.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering
At the end of 2010, another former member of Chacon's inner circle began cooperating with the US Attorney's Office. This "confidential informant" arrived at one of Chacon's residences in Guatemala with the Colombian Orlando Fernandez Barrero (partner to "El Loco" Barrera), and filmed the meeting between the three of them. The video revealed that Chacon was not just a link in the chain, but was responsible for important operational details.
The informant, or "CS-1," filmed Fernandez asking Chacon to "provide her trafficking infrastructure in Honduras for the receipt of an 800 kilo cocaine shipment." According to the court document, the video shows Chacon coordinating the arrival of the drug shipment with two cellphones. In one phone call, she gives instructions about the landing strip that should be used, and how much fuel would be needed. She ordered that trafficking group the Caracoles receive the shipment on her behalf, in two day's time. Chacon also said that "she had purchased a Cessna Caravan plane capable of transporting approximately 2 tons of cocaine."
During the same meeting, the informant and Chacon discussed how many kilos she would receive and how much it would cost "so she could be ready to pay in full." Chacon later coordinated the shipment from Honduras to Guatemala.
The US Attorney's Office used CS-2's revelations to open an investigation and formally accuse the Colombian Fernandez Barrero and his brother, Javier. Both frequently traveled to Central America. The accusations against Chacon stemmed from her relationship with the Fernandez brothers, who handed themselves over to US authorities at the end of 2010.
Accusations Written with the Ink of Treason
On August 25, 2011, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida formally accused Chacon of conspiring to traffic at least five kilos of cocaine. On that day, judge Stephen Brown ordered the indictment to be sealed, until Chacon was captured or the court dictated otherwise.
In January 2012, the US Treasury made the drug trafficking accusations against Chacon public for the first time. In July 2012, a federal judge in the United States sentenced the brothers Orlando and Javier Fernandez Barrero to 11 and 13 years in prison, respectively. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Orlando is incarcerated in a medium-security prison in South Carolina. His brother Javier is in a minimum-security prison in Texas. Both sentences could foreshadow what awaits Chacon, since the accusation against the brothers supported the accusation against her.
In August 2012, the Treasury Department applied further sanctions against Chacon. The Treasury reiterated its previous accusation, and said she was supplying cocaine to the Zetas. In addition, the US Treasury included her daughter, Stefanel Castellanos Chacon, and other suspects as well (although her daughter does not appear among the accused in Florida court documents).
This time, Chacon reacted. On October 22, 2012, she hired a lawyer in the United States. Meanwhile, the US Attorney's Office urged the court to keep the indictment sealed, because "divulging the content, an ongoing investigation into federal offenses (in the Southern District of Florida as well as other districts), could seriously compromise the investigation and expose [certain] individuals to potential dangers." Nevertheless, at the request of the prosecution, the judge authorized partial access only to Chacon, "so that she can understand the charges against her, and her lawyer can make an informed decision on how to proceed."
In October 2012, in the indictment, Chacon's lawyer (who is not identified in the file) affirmed that Chacon "understood that she faced criminal charges for which she can be prosecuted" and that "she wishes to hand herself in." By then, Cesar Barrera had met with DEA agents in Colombia, who gave authorities information on some suspects the US was trying to capture in Guatemala and Mexico. In June 2013, Barrera handed himself over to the DEA in Panama.
The US considered Klapper to be one of the "most valuable government officials" in combating drug trafficking, until – to Chacon's good fortune – she left the US Attorney's Office and became a defense lawyer.
Within days Barrera was in Miami, where he talked with the DEA about other individuals the administration wanted to capture in Panama. Barrera was key to the US capturing and sentencing various suspects. The indictment reveals that he helped tighten the net around three important suspects, who are not identified, but could be "El Loco" Barrera, Borrayo, and Chacon.
What transpired after Cesar Barrera collaborated with authorities was a whirlwind for Chacon and Borrayo. In April and July 2013, Chacon traveled to El Salvador twice, according to the registry of Guatemala's migration office. The second trip came just two weeks after Borrayo had traveled to Mexico and later to France, where he was captured for drug trafficking, on orders from the United States.
Cesar Barrera, detained in Miami, changed his plea on drug trafficking charges from "not guilty" to "guilty" within 48 hours of the start of his October 2013 trail. In November, Chacon left Guatemala for five days to an unknown location before returning. That same month she traveled to Honduras, and came back 24 hours later. On February 9, 2014, Chacon traveled to Panama for five days. On February 20 she went back to Panama, but did not return to Guatemala.
SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles
On March 14, 2014, Borrayo was extradited from France to Florida, and in May, Chacon agreed to a telephone interview with Prensa Libre and said that she was in France on vacation, because her daughter studied there. In addition, she revealed that in November she had a meeting with the US Treasury in order to resolve her situation, and that her husband and daughter were free from all accusations.
Playing Chess in a Miami Court
Chacon acted strategically. The potential declarations by her former accomplices, as well as accusations of drug trafficking against her, prompted her to hire a star lawyer: Bonnie S. Klapper, a former New York prosecutor.
In 2012, Klapper was described in Colombia as a fiercely anti-mafia former prosecutor. In California, she specialized in investigating money laundering cases related to drug trafficking. In New York, Klapper focused on international money laundering and drug trafficking. Klapper co-led investigations that dismantled money laundering networks between New York and Colombia, which ended in an accusation against Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, brother of Armado Carrillo Fuentes, alias "The Lord of the Skies," and former head of the Juarez Cartel in Mexico. In 2009, Klapper became part of a team of attorneys in the United States that targeted a Zetas leaders, Miguel Treviño Morales, for drug trafficking and weapons smuggling. Treviño was captured in Mexico in 2013.
Bonnie S. Klapper was a prosecutor in New York before she became Chacon's defense lawyer
The DEA referred to Klapper as the "iron prosecutor." The administration of US President Barack Obama considered Klapper to be one of the "most valuable government officials" in combating drug trafficking, until -- to Chacon's good fortune -- she left the US Attorney's Office and became a defense lawyer. She quickly counted among her clients prominent drug traffickers and suspects the US Treasury accused of money laundering. She worked with Jack Denaro on some cases, a lawyer based in Miami who was also representing Chacon.
In 2014, Klapper decided to defend Chacon. On August 29, 2014, Klapper became Chacon's lawyer, and just days later Klapper recommended to Chacon that she turn herself in.
On September 10, 2014, US authorities fulfilled the warrant for Chacon's arrest that had been sent out three years earlier. That day, Chacon handed herself over to the US Marshals Service in Miami, and the US Attorney's Office solicited her preventive detention while she awaited trial. According to court documents, the presiding judge, William C. Turnoff, ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to exclude Chacon's name and identification number from electronic files (which are accessible to the public online) until the court ordered otherwise. The order to protect her information was so urgent that the note was handwritten by the judge, so that the instruction would be completed immediately. To divulge that Chacon was incarcerated would send the message that she had betrayed some of her close associates.
In Miami, Chacon came before Judge Turnoff for the first time in mid-2014, and was present when the charges against her were read. She pleaded not guilty, and asked to be brought to court. She had 70 days for this to happen, or to change her mind and change her plea to guilty. The court scheduled her first hearing for December 1. But on October 14 of last year, Chacon pleaded guilty. Nevertheless, the prosecutor Botero asked the court to register the declaration of guilt on a date closer to December 16, because US government officials "were still undertaking operations to capture various suspects, based in part on information from the accused." There is no other information available on the captures. Botero explained that she asked to change the guilty plea date "in order to minimize the risk that those who were captured would find out that [Chacon] was incarcerated in the United States."
In November of last year, Chacon gave her consent so that the US Attorney's Office and her lawyers could begin negotiations between December 16, 2014 and January 15, 2015 to reach an agreement on her plea and sentence. Chacon, who at the time was described as a "cooperative defendant," gave her consent just one day after "El Loco" Barrera pleaded guilty to charges of drug trafficking in a New York court.
On December 11, 2014, Chacon signed court document number 36 "to accept that the crimes described here (between 2008 and 2011) were proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and would be sufficient to find her guilty in the event she stands trial."
Court documents describing Chacon's criminal activity
The "Mea Culpa"
In court documents, Chacon admitted to having conspired to traffic five or more kilos of cocaine knowing they would be smuggled into the United States. She indicated that she knew her sentence would be imposed after a consideration of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, and that the court would also consider evidence presented against her. The document indicates that Chacon would not be able to rescind her guilty plea once she received her sentence. Under US law, for conspiring to distribute five or more kilos of cocaine, Chacon could be given a fine of up to $10 million dollars and receive a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of a life sentence in prison.
The US Attorney's Office and the defense recommended sanctions for trafficking 500 kilos of cocaine, since Chacon collaborated, and she pleaded guilty in the stipulated time frame, saving the court from having to prepare itself to go to trial. For her role as an organizer and leader of criminal activity that involved five or more accomplices, they recommended a sentence of five to 40 years in prison and a fine of between $5 million and $25 million dollars. This sentencing range is similar to what was given to the Fernandez Barrero brothers.
The US Attorney's Office could retract their recommendation if Chacon refuses to divulge the circumstances surrounding all of the charges against her, if she offers inaccurate information to the US government, or if she commits a federal offense. What's more, the court made it clear that the sentencing estimate "is just a prediction, not a promise," and that the court is not obliged to follow it.
Upon pleading guilty, Chacon also gave up her ability to appeal her sentence. She may still be at the mercy of the court for years, even following her release from prison, because she agreed to "cooperate completely in this case, fulfill any requirement of the US Attorney's Office (including in other cases), serve as a confidential informant or an informant under guarded supervision, and not return to criminal activity or protect other criminal actors in this case." With that agreement, Chacon signed her declaration, and on December 12, 2014, pleaded guilty before Judge Martinez.