BANGOR, Maine — A jury of three men and nine women Thursday found a Houston man guilty of being part of a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into Canada through Maine.
Apolinar “Polo” Ortiz Islas, 42, was convicted on one count 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, but based on testimony, more than three times that amount was purchased in Houston and distributed in New Brunswick.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour after hearing more than 2½ days of testimony in the trial in U.S. District Court.
Ortiz Islas admitted to selling cocaine in Houston but denied being part of the conspiracy that involved Canadians, a Mainer and his fellow Texans.
He did not react when the verdict was read.
After the verdict was announced, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who prosecuted the case, praised the work of law enforcement officials in three states.
“The investigators in Houlton, Houston and New Jersey did a fantastic job and conducted a thorough investigation,” he said. “They deserve the credit. The jury obviously paid careful attention to all the evidence and returned a just verdict.”
Federal Public Defender Virginia Villa, who represented Ortiz Islas, left the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building without speaking with a reporter. She most likely will appeal the verdict to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston based on a recent decision that dismissed a similar drug conspiracy charge against a Massachusetts man.
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. Indicted separately on the same drug conspiracy charge were two Canadian men, Chad Hallett, 29, of Dieppe, New Brunswick, and Matthieu LeBlanc, 29, of Shediac, New Brunswick.
All five men have pleaded guilty. LeBlanc, Charles and Kyle MacDonnell, 35, of Houston, who was granted immunity, identified Ortiz Islas as the man from whom they purchased cocaine in Houston. Hallett testified that he drove the money from Maine to Houston and the cocaine back for LeBlanc.
Rossignol was paid to drive the money and the cocaine across the border, the Canadians testified. 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.
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.
All five men convicted in the conspiracy face a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a 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.