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Texas man sentenced for money laundering

Caught with $1.3 million at Gainesville airport

POSTED: April 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Kevin Felts, a judge said, lived the life of a con man, bragging of exploits as a fighter pilot just back from Iraq when his true life as a chemical engineer was less enthralling.

Felts, 60, who lived under several aliases, used his lies to charm Nora Aguilar, a 34-year-old ex-con with ties to the drug trade, during an encounter in Texas. Aguilar, in turn, bought Felts a small plane and convinced him to become a high-flying bag man for a Mexican drug cartel, transporting suitcases containing millions of dollars in cash from Gainesville, Cleveland, Memphis, Dallas and other locations to the Mexican border.

It was a life, prosecutors said, of "living on the edge." Felts’ defense attorney said he was attracted by romance and high-risk adventure. On Thursday, Felts was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Gainesville to 17 years, six months in a federal prison for laundering money that was the proceeds of large-scale cocaine deals. Felts was caught with two suitcases containing $1.3 million at Gainesville’s Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport on March 12, 2005.

While an attorney for Felts argued he was "bewitched" into breaking the law by a young, attractive accomplice who he loved, Judge William C. O’Kelley saw otherwise.

"His life was nothing but a lie," O’Kelley said. "That’s how he met this woman. She thought she had found herself a pilot who was a hero from Iraq. It wasn’t that she lured him in; they lured each other. And both of them got caught in the web."

Aguilar pleaded guilty last year to drug conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 21 years in prison. She was hiding in the plane on the Gainesville airport tarmac when DEA agents and local law enforcement officers searched it.

Two men who turned the cash over to Felts were tracked to a nearby stash house where agents found 17 kilograms of cocaine and $300,000 in cash.

Assistant United States Attorney Kurt Erskine said the drug conspiracy was "far-flung" and involved at least 150 kilograms of cocaine smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico.

Prosecutors believe Felts, of Brazoria, Texas, personally handled close to $7 million in drug money. One suitcase he was given was so cash-laden — weighing close to 100 pounds — that the handle broke, Erskine said.

Felts was acquitted of a drug conspiracy charge during his December trial, and testified he didn’t know the money was proceeds from drug trafficking.

The judge rejected Felts’ claim of ignorance.

"I don’t think he fell off the back of a cabbage truck yesterday," O’Kelley said.

Felts, a tall, rangy man with glasses and a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, declined to address the judge when given the opportunity. Two of his three grown daughters, who traveled to the hearing from Texas and Pennsylvania, asked the judge for mercy.

"If he gets sentenced to this long sentence, he’s going to die in prison, and that would not be good for the family." said 35-year-old Tracy Milun.

Erskine, the prosecutor, said Felts and Aguilar "allowed the Mexican drug traffickers to reap those rewards and allowed the cycle of trafficking to continue."

"The effects of that on our communities will never fully be known," he said.


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