BANGOR, Maine — Two Texas men Wednesday identified Apolinar “Polo” Ortiz Islas, 42, of Houston as the man with whom they arranged the sale of cocaine to a Canadian on the second day of Ortiz Islas’ jury trial in U.S. District Court.
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.
Ortiz Islas has not denied selling cocaine in Texas but has denied being part of the conspiracy that smuggled it into Canada through Maine.
Charles and Kyle MacDonnell, 35, of Houston testified that they acted as middlemen between Ortiz Islas and Matthieu LeBlanc, 29, of Shediac, New Brunswick. Both men told jurors they met LeBlanc through a Louisiana man in 2010 from whom all three men purchased marijuana.
MacDonnell said that he got involved in brokering drug deals with Charles in 2010 after Charles was released from a Texas prison and work at MacDonnell’s custom homebuilding business dried up. MacDonnell, who was granted immunity, testified that he had known Charles since both were teens and met Islas Ortiz through the owner of a concrete business, who has not been charged, who had done work for his homebuilding company.
“Because of Matt’s accent and Polo’s accent, it would have been hard for Matt to broker a deal with Polo,” MacDonnell said. “Matt wouldn’t have gone home [if he’d tried to do it himself].”
Interpreters were in the courtroom translating the court proceedings from English into Spanish for the defendant.
Charles told the jury that he started dealing directly with LeBlanc when MacDonnell got out of the business in August 2011 after one of his drivers was stopped in Maine with marijuana in his car. Charles said that the driver had taken cocaine to Houlton from Houston and exchanged it with Rossignol for marijuana.
MacDonnell testified that he quit the drug business after the driver told him that the phone call he had made to him from Maine had been recorded by police.
LeBlanc 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.
Rossignol was paid to drive the money and the cocaine and/or marijuana 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 MacDonnell.
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 and helped set up the deal that led police to Charles and Ortiz Islas.
Hallett, LeBlanc, Charles, and Rossignol 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. They are expected to be sentenced later this year.
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. Those who testified against Ortiz Islas could be sentenced to less than 10 years for cooperating with the prosecution.