An alleged middleman in a deal for more than 15 pounds of cocaine outside a Gainesville liquor store was sentenced by a federal judge Wednesday to six years, three months in prison as his family members wept.
The lawyer for Victorino Martinez-Zepeda said his client unwittingly found himself in a mess not of his making because of family connections to a known drug trafficker from Nashville.
"My client is the victim of genealogy," defense attorney Arturo Corso told U.S. District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley. Zepeda is the cousin of a woman married to a cocaine trafficker referred to in court by the last name "Chulakis," Corso said.
Zepeda could have gotten a prison sentence of 10 years under federal mandatory-minimum laws after pleading guilty to a cocaine conspiracy charge, but agreed to provide information to federal law enforcement officials. A judge may sentence a defendant to less than the minimum prison term if he cooperates with the government.
According to court records, on Nov. 13, 2006, Zepeda spoke by phone with Chulakis and was asked to meet some men in the parking lot of the Flor De Jalisco restaurant on Industrial Boulevard. Zepeda has maintained that he thought he was meeting the men about a possible construction job. But when they showed him a duffel bag filled with cash, he knew they were looking to make a drug deal, Corso acknowledged. He said his client stayed at the scene because of an implied threat that he was being watched and his relative "wouldn’t be very happy" if he left, Corso said.
Later, a car arrived at the nearby Queen City Package store on Industrial Boulevard. Seven kilogram packages of cocaine were stashed under a spare tire in the trunk and in the wheel wells of the car.
The driver of that car, Juan Carlos Macedonio-Salgado, admitted to accepting $600 to drive it to the location but claimed never to have seen the drugs.
Authorities who were watching the deal converged on the scene and arrested three people in connection with the conspiracy.
O’Kelley on Wednesday delayed Salgado’s sentencing so he could hear from an informant who saw the deal happen. The judge must determine whether Salgado was being truthful when he told federal agents in a Wednesday debriefing that he never saw the cocaine.
A third defendant in the case, Fidel Arevalo-Villa, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and was sentenced to five years in prison at an earlier court hearing.
About a dozen family members of Zepeda filled three rows of benches in the courtroom gallery. Several sobbed when the judge announced a prison sentence of 75 months.
Prior to being sentenced, the defendant addressed the judge through a courtroom interpreter.
"I would like to apologize because I made a mistake," Zepeda said. "I know that many times the penalties are imposed so people don’t make the same mistake twice. But I would rather not live my life in jail. I would rather be outside with my family."
Zepeda gets credit for the time spent in jail awaiting trial since his November 2006 arrest. With good behavior, he may serve only 85 percent of the prison sentence, Corso said.