An investigation by federal and local authorities into a drug trafficking organization that brought marijuana and cocaine into the United States through the Douglas area in 2017 has ended with the alleged ringleader signing a plea deal that guarantees he won’t go to prison when sentenced next month.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and several local agencies utilized wiretaps, surveillance cameras, drug buys, and undercover stake-outs to build a case against Jose Carlos Durazo for moving drugs across the border throughout much of 2017. Durazo, a.k.a Big Boy, faced decades in prison if convicted at trial of all 24 felonies contained in an August 2018 grand jury indictment.
Instead, Durazo pleaded guilty last month to one felony count of participating in a criminal syndicate. The other 23 counts were dismissed as part of the written agreement with the Cochise County Attorney’s Office which stipulates that Durazo will be placed on probation when sentenced Jan. 17.
The length of the probation term is at the discretion of Judge Laura Cardinal of the Cochise County Superior Court.
Meanwhile, the same county grand jury that indicted Durazo also indicted Douglas resident Louis Antonio Vidana, 27, on five felony drug counts and three criminal syndicate counts in connection to Durazo’s operation.
Vidana, nicknamed Wicho, will appear before Cardinal on Jan. 31 for a pretrial conference at which he may enter into a plea agreement. Otherwise a spring 2020 trial is likely.
Several other people were arrested in 2017 while transporting drugs on behalf of Durazo’s organization. Some were prosecuted on state charges while others, including George Thomas Balfe Jr., were prosecuted in federal court.
Balfe was arrested with 87 bundles of marijuana in the trunk of his car. He admitted in court that he agreed to transport the 220 pounds of marijuana from Douglas to Tucson in exchange for money. As a result he is serving three years federal probation.