BANGOR, Maine — Apolinar “Polo” Ortiz Islas, 42, of Houston may be guilty of selling cocaine in Texas but he’s not guilty of being part of a conspiracy that brought cocaine through Maine to be distributed in Canada, his attorney told the jury Tuesday on the opening day of his trial in U.S. District Court.
“What you will not hear is that the defendant had any interest in any transaction that occurred outside the state of Texas,” Federal Public Defender Virginia Villa said in her opening statement. “Pay close attention to who said what to whom and when.”
Ortiz Islas was indicted in August 2012 by a federal grand jury along with Victor “Vic” Charles, 32, of Bacliff, Texas, and Robert “The Border Guy” Rossignol, 60, of Van Buren on one count each of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine between Jan. 1, 2011, and June 28, 2012.
Five kilograms of cocaine is equivalent to about 11 pounds of the drug.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who is prosecuting the case, told the jury of 11 women and three men, including two alternates, in his opening statement that Ortiz Islas is guilty of the charge outlined in the indictment.
“You will hear testimony during this trial from law enforcement investigators and drug dealers alike,” he told jurors. “This was an enterprise comprised of Canadians, Texans and a Mainer who found each other and designed a scheme to make money on cocaine.”
Two Canadian men, Matthieu LeBlanc, 29, of Shediac, New Brunswick, and Chad Hallett, 29, of Dieppe, New Brunswick, who met playing poker in college, testified Tuesday. LeBlanc said that he began running marijuana from Louisiana in 2010 for a man he met playing poker in a Moncton, New Brunswick, casino who has not been charged in the conspiracy. That man introduced him to Rossignol and connected LeBlanc with McDonnell and Charles, LeBlanc said. They in turn, acted as the middlemen between the Canadians and Ortiz Islas.
Rossignol was paid to drive the money and the cocaine across the border, both men said. Hallett would meet Rossignol on either side of the border to pick up either the money or the cocaine, according to testimony. Hallett then drove the money to Texas and the cocaine back to Maine.
LeBlanc would fly to Houston and meet Hallett, who would drive him to a location where he would exchange the cash for the cocaine, both men told the jury. Hallett said that he never met Ortiz Islas but LeBlanc identified him as the man he bought cocaine from in Houston. LeBlanc said he met Ortiz Islas through Charles and Kyle McDonnell of Texas, who has been granted immunity.
Rossignol and the Texans were charged after Hallett was seen by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement receiving nearly $300,000 in cash in a box from Rossignol in a Houlton parking lot on June 27, 2012, according to court documents.
A short time later, Hallett was stopped for speeding by Maine State Police, and a K-9 unit discovered $298,585 inside a box in the trunk, according to court documents. Hallett and LeBlanc agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in exchange for consideration of a lighter sentence than the ones recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines.
Alleged co-conspirators Rossignol and Charles are scheduled to testify against Ortiz Islas on Wednesday, the prosecutor said. Both have men have pleaded guilty to the drug charges. Rossignol also pleaded guilty to a second count of failure to report the importation of $10,000 or more and aiding and abetting the same.
The trial is expected to last four days. Interpreters were in the courtroom Tuesday translating the court proceedings from English into Spanish for the defendant.
All five men charged in connection with the operation face a mandatory minimum of 10 years and maximum sentence of life in federal prison and a fine of up to $10 million on the drug charges.