BANGOR, Maine — A Houston man who is one of three suspects in an alleged drug-running scheme entered a plea of not guilty Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court to a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine across the border into Canada.
Apolinar Ortiz-Islas, 42, pleaded not guilty in Spanish and his interpreter relayed the plea to U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk, who then set a preliminary trial date of Dec. 4.
Ortiz-Islas is charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute 5 kilograms (approximately 11 pounds) or more of cocaine to Canada through Maine. If found guilty, he faces a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence and a maximum of life in prison. He also could be fined $10 million.
Ortiz-Islas, who also goes by the nickname “Polo,” is charged with conspiring with Robert Rossignol of Van Buren and Victor Charles, another Texas man, to take cocaine into Canada this past July. Rossignol and two Canadian men — Matthieu LeBlanc of Shediac, New Brunswick, and Chad Hallett of Dieppe, New Brunswick — were arrested this summer after the distribution scheme came to the attention of authorities, according to court documents. Hallett was stopped for speeding by Maine State Police, and a K-9 unit discovered $298,585 inside a box in the trunk, the documents said.
Hallett told federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents he intended to meet with LeBlanc in Atlantic City, N.J., to change smaller-denomination bills into larger ones before heading to Houston to meet with an alleged cocaine dealer nicknamed Vic, also known as Victor Charles, and buy cocaine for $29,000 per kilogram, according to the court documents. Charles is scheduled for arraignment at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Bangor.
The Canadian men allegedly told police and ICE agents they planned to return to Maine and turn the cocaine over to Rossignol, who waived his arraignment on Thursday without appearing in court.
Ortiz-Islas, who is being held at Somerset County Jail in Madison, is listed with a Houston residence but is also listed as a foreign national and “possibly Mexican” with undetermined country of origin on the case synopsis document filed in court. Kravchuk issued a temporary order of detention for Ortiz-Islas effective until a detention hearing, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Kravchuk accepted a request by Ortiz-Islas for a court-appointed attorney. Virginia Villa took over his defense Friday.