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21 years in prison for St. Paul drug kingpin who amassed millions

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • November 27, 2012 - 9:19 PM

The St. Paul ringleader of a multistate drug trafficking operation whose tight knit crew accumulated millions of dollars they used to buy planes, expensive cars and other luxuries won't be able to spend any more money for a very long time.

Jesus "Jesse" Mendoza, 45, whose convicted co-conspirators include his wife, was sentenced Monday in federal court in St. Paul to 21 years in prison after pleading guilty last summer to trafficking cocaine and thousands of pounds of marijuana, as well as money laundering.

Investigators have seized more than $2 million in assets related to Mendoza's drug organization, including seven vehicles, two motorcycles, more than $817,000 in cash, nearly $700,000 in jewelry and homes in the 1700 block of E. Arlington Avenue in St. Paul and in the 200 block of Battle Road in South Haven, Minn.

"Jesse Mendoza was a long-tenured leader of a Minnesota-based drug-trafficking organization distributing illicit drugs and laundering money," said Dan Moen, in charge of the Twin Cities office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "The Mendoza organization utilized private aircraft and commercial vehicles to smuggle cocaine and marijuana from California to Minnesota, [and] Mr. Mendoza personally amassed millions of dollars running this criminal enterprise."

Nine of Mendoza's co-conspirators have pleaded guilty, six of whom have been sentenced. That includes wife Dawn Mendoza, who was sentenced three months ago to one year and one day in prison for aiding and abetting money laundering. Dawn Mendoza admitted buying two vehicles for a combined $46,000 with money from the drug sales.

Several of the other defendants also attempted to conceal the proceeds of their illegal drug-trafficking operation by buying numerous high-priced items, including a 1965 Cessna single-engine airplane, custom motorcycles, other vehicles and real estate.

The other defendants were "acquaintances, strangers, friends and family," the prosecution said in a presentencing court filing. "Everybody loved the defendant. Even after the investigation and prosecution of the defendant and many of his friends, [they] retain a high degree of loyalty."

Court documents put the amount of marijuana trafficked at anywhere from 4,500 pounds to more than 13,000 pounds.

"The defendant ... was an accomplished drug dealer, enjoying the financial success few will ever experience legitimately or otherwise," the prosecution's presentencing document continued, noting three earlier felony drug convictions and two drunken driving convictions.

According to the plea agreement:

From January 2005 through most of 2010, Jesse Mendoza led a drug-trafficking organization that moved the narcotics from California and other states, and distributed them throughout Minnesota.

Upon his arrrest in December 2010, he admitted coordinating shipments of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana. The drugs were shipped in cars, commercial trucks and private aircraft.

He also admitted to attempting to grow marijuana by providing $100,000 to equip a 1,000-plant capacity indoor operation in Minnesota, securing a location, and arranging for someone else to run it.

Staff Writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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