Jesus Huerta, 27, of Johnson City, was sentenced Thursday to serve 16 years in federal prison.
Huerta appeared before Federal Judge Ronnie Greer at Greenville.
A monetary judgment of $6 million was also entered against Huerto.
The sentence was the result of his February 2010, conviction of conspiring to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana.
The indictment and subsequent convictions of Huerta and 26 co-defendants were the result of a two-year joint investigation between the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Johnson City and the Washington County Tenn. Sheriff's Office, code-named “Operation Talisman.”
Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal provided extensive man power to assist in the investigation, which developed ties from members of the organization in Washington County, Tenn.; to Louisville, Ky.; Springfield, Ill.; McDowell County, N.C.; Madison, Neb.; Las Vegas, Nev; San Bernardino, Cal.; Houston, Texas; and McAllen, Tex.
Huerta and other members of the organization were responsible for the distribution of more than 13,000 kilograms of marijuana across the U.S. for a profit exceeding $7 million, officials said.
Huerta and others obtained bulk marijuana from Mexico for distribution in Tennessee and elsewhere. Members of the organization also cultivated at least one marijuana grow operation in the Pisgah National Forest in N.C. During the investigation, DEA agents and Washington County Sheriff's Office investigators discovered that members of the organization were using iconic figures from the Mexican culture as a means to protect themselves from law enforcement agents and to provide them with luck. These figures include "La Santa Muerta," known in Mexican culture and the "Saint of Holy Death," and "Jesus Malverde," who is commonly referred to as the "Patron Saint of Narco Traffickers." Neither figure is recognized by the Catholic Church. The worship of these figures is becoming more widespread across the U.S., and this investigation marks the first significant encounter of these figures in the Eastern District of Tennessee, officials said.
As a result of the investigation, law enforcement agents seized more than $150,000.00 in U.S. currency, numerous firearms, 789 kilograms of packaged marijuana, and 3,717 marijuana plants which were discovered by an off-duty employee of the U.S. Forest Service in the Pisgah National Forest in McDowell County, N.C.
United States Attorney Bill Killian said, “The cooperative efforts among several state and federal authorities resulted in these convictions. It is not possible to bring down such an organization without organized cooperation among law enforcement agencies. We will continue to work closely with our local and state colleagues to ensure the peace and safety of our citizens.”
Agents with the Tennessee First Judicial Drug Task Force, Johnson City Tennessee Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Jonesborough Tennessee Police Department, Bristol Tennessee Police Department, Unicoi County Tennessee Sheriff's Office, Carter County Tennessee Sheriff’s Office, Portland Tennessee Police Department, Louisville, Kentucky Police Department, Houston Texas Police Department, McAllen Texas Police Department, San Bernardino California Police Department, Texas Department of Safety - Highway Patrol and Narcotics Division, McDowell County N.C. Sheriff's Department, Madison County N.C. Sheriff's Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S. Border Patrol, the National Park Service Rangers, stationed on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the U.S. Forest Service, and the DEA were all involved in the investigation and subsequent indictment, conviction and sentencing of Huerta.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Caryn L. Hebets and J. Gregory Bowman represented the United States.
The case was part of the Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) programs. OCDETF is the primary weapon of the United States against the highest level drug trafficking organizations operating within the United States, importing drugs into the United States, or laundering the
proceeds of drug trafficking. The HIDTA program enhances and coordinates drug control efforts among local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies. The program provides agencies with coordination, equipment, technology, and additional resources to combat drug trafficking and its harmful consequences in critical regions of the United States, officials said.