SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 18, 2013

Soldier admits role in $1M cocaine deal

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — A staff sergeant in the Arizona National Guard admitted yesterday that he acted as the “bag man” in a $1 million deal to move 11 kilograms, nearly 25 pounds, of cocaine from Mexico to Canada in December 2011.

Gerardo Flores, 29, of Tucson, was sentenced to three years in state prison, a sentence imposed, in part, in consideration of his military service, Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead acknowledged yesterday.

“I do give Mr. Flores credit for his two deployments,” Whitehead said, referring to tours of duty in Iraq by Flores both in the Guard and while an active-duty Army staff sergeant. “It does reflect some commitment to the greater public good.”

Flores was one of three men charged after police, acting on information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, discovered Flores and two other men — Valentine Torres Munoz, 33, of Mexico and Jason Grilli, 28, of Quebec — at the Holiday Inn on Route 1 in Peabody on Dec. 21, 2011, police and prosecutors said.

The Canadian investigators had received information through a wiretap that Grilli would be arriving to pick up cocaine, prosecutor Greg Friedholm said. Peabody and state police and federal agents converged on the hotel, which is at the junction of three major highways.

Police spotted Grilli in a minivan with Quebec plates, circling the lot, then watched him go into the hotel, then leave a few minutes later carrying a duffle bag. The bag was found to contain cocaine.

Police later questioned Torres Munoz, who pointed them to Flores and his girlfriend, staying in another room.

Flores’ girlfriend, who was not charged, told police that this was the second trip they had made between Texas and Massachusetts. Two months earlier, the pair had flown up and then driven back with cash from another drug transaction. Friedholm told the judge the two were planning to do the same thing in December, when they were arrested.

During that October trip, Flores had lied to his supervisors in the Arizona National Guard, telling them he needed to travel to Texas to be with his girlfriend’s ailing relative, Friedholm told the judge. Instead, said the prosecutor, he came to Massachusetts.

Friedholm urged the judge to impose a longer prison term of four to five years, comparing it with the sentences of 12 to 14 years that have been offered to the other two men. He also noted that under new state sentencing laws, they will be eligible for parole after eight years. He argued that his recommendation of less time for Flores takes into account the defendant’s lesser role in the conspiracy.

While the judge agreed, he also said he believes that Flores’ military service and the likely loss of his livelihood as a Guardsman and sometime private security officer at federal buildings were factors to consider.

Defense lawyer Michael Hickey argued for the shorter, three-year term, the minimum penalty available, saying his client had no prior record and that his involvement was an “aberration.”

That prompted Friedholm to mention the prior trip and the lies Flores told his supervisors when he asked for leave.

Torres Munoz and Grilli are due back in court next month. It is not known whether they will accept the proposed sentences that were being offered in exchange for guilty pleas or opt to go to trial.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.