A Mexican woman has pleaded guilty in federal court in East St. Louis drug trafficking and being in the U.S. illegally.
Maria Elena Rico-Lopez, 32, a citizen of Mexico, pleaded guilty Wednesday to the charges of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and entry into the U.S. without inspection, according to Stephen R. Wigginton, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.
Rico-Lopez was charged Aug. 22 in an 11-count indictment that included nine other people accused of being members of a large drug trafficking organization.
She is scheduled for sentencing in federal court Nov. 1 and faces up to 40 years in prison, at least four years of supervised release following completion of her sentence and a fine up to $5 million. As part of the plea agreement Rico-Lopez will forfeit $34,720 to the U.S. She admitted to being in the U.S. illegally and will be deported after she serves her sentence.
According to court documents, Rico-Lopez was part of a drug trafficking ring responsible for importing cocaine from Mexico into the United States, where it was taken to Salt Lake City, Utah. From Salt Lake City, the cocaine was transported by members of the conspiracy to the St. Louis area, where it was distributed by various members of the organization, including some who operated within the Southern District of Illinois. Proceeds for the sales of the cocaine were then transported back to the leaders of the conspiracy in Salt Lake City.
Of the nine individuals named in the indictment with Rico-Lopez, five others have entered pleas of guilty and have either been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing; two others have been arrested and are awaiting trial; two are fugitives.