Fargo News

Guilty plea in Fargo marks conclusion of extensive cartel investigation

Fargo, North Dakota – In a significant development that concludes a nearly two-decade-long investigation implicating dozens of individuals, a man alleged to be a hitman for a Mexican drug cartel entered a guilty plea to federal charges yesterday.

Juan Francisco Sillas-Rocha, a resident of Tijuana, Mexico, admitted guilt to three charges during a hearing presided over by Chief Judge Peter Welte in Fargo, North Dakota. The charges included conspiracy to commit murder in aid of a continuous criminal enterprise.

Sillas-Rocha is slated to receive his sentencing in the early part of 2024, potentially facing a life sentence and fines amounting to millions of dollars.

Matthew Lombard, legal representative for Sillas-Rocha, did not respond promptly to The Associated Press’s inquiries for comment on his client’s guilty plea.

Sillas-Rocha, as per authorities, was a high-ranking associate of the Arellano Felix cartel. This group was infamous for smuggling narcotics such as cocaine and marijuana into the United States for decades, rivaling the Sinaloa cartel led by the notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

After being indicted in 2011, Sillas-Rocha was arrested later the same year in Tijuana. Following years of litigation in Mexico, he was extradited to North Dakota in the previous year to face his charges, as stated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in North Dakota.

Sillas-Rocha purportedly bragged to authorities about being responsible for the deaths of up to 30 individuals per month during the Felix cartel’s prime in Tijuana, as per a North Dakota detective.

The case has roots in 2004 with the launch of the “Operation Speed Racer” drug trafficking investigation in Fargo, involving the 2005 murder of a man who did not pay for 5 pounds of methamphetamine supplied by Sillas-Rocha and transported to Fargo.

The investigation uncovered an alleged criminal operation transporting methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana from Washington, California, and Mexico to North Dakota and Minnesota. In total, 66 individuals were indicted across 18 separate charges. The federal authorities have stated that Sillas-Rocha’s guilty plea brings the investigation to a close.

In a statement, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan highlighted that the “prosecution, extradition, and now conviction, of Juan Sillas-Rocha” concludes over a decade of coordinated effort by investigators and prosecutors from Fargo, North Dakota, and San Diego, California. This verdict sends a resounding message that violence instigated or conducted by individuals at the helm of Mexican drug trafficking organizations targeting persons in the United States will not be tolerated.

Jimmy Hathaway

Having spent my formative years in the beloved city of Grand Forks, I eventually relocated to Fargo during my second decade of life. The passion for journalism runs deep within my bloodline, as numerous close relatives have been, and some continue to be, engaged in the field as reporters and journalists. Outside of my professional pursuits, I cherish the moments spent in the company of my family.

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