A Honduran man who admitted helping transport more than a ton of cocaine and was said to have survived several attempts on his life will be sentenced in federal court in Richmond on Monday.
Though facing a maximum term of life in prison, sentencing guidelines call for Willian Medina-Escobar, 34, to serve roughly 23 to 27 years in prison for conspiring to possess, with the intent to distribute, five kilograms or more of cocaine on a U.S.-registered aircraft. The guidelines are not binding on U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who will impose a sentence.
The government said that around 2011, Medina-Escobar, who has no prior criminal record, joined Los Cachiros, a large-scale cocaine trafficking organization, and helped transport cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras using aircraft.
The case is apparently related to those of two Guatemalans sentenced in federal cases in Richmond: Fernando Chang Monroy, 39, and Luis Garcia-Orellana, 50, both of whom were implicated in the purchase of aircraft in Virginia. Chang Monroy was sentenced to 22 years and Garcia-Orellana to 20 years.
According to government sentencing documents, Medina-Escobar lived most of his life in Honduras and fled to Guatemala only after the gang he worked for tried to kill him in 2016.
He was indicted in February 2017, extradited to the U.S. in March 2017 and pleaded guilty, admitting to participating in a conspiracy from 2011 to 2014 that, in one flight alone, transported more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine on a U.S.-registered aircraft in October 2013.
Medina-Escobar’s lawyer, Ali J. Amirshahi, is asking for a sentence below the guideline range. In a sentencing memorandum, he wrote, “There have been at least three attempts on Mr. Medina-Escobar’s life.”
“In 2014 a competing drug trafficking organization tried to kill him. The competing cartel had received information from a corrupt police officer that the defendant was at a bar. The defendant had in fact been at the bar but left before the would-be assassins arrived and killed everyone in the bar,” Amirshahi said.
He added, “Most significantly, the Los Cachiros ... tried to kill Mr. Medina-Escobar in 2016 because they believed he was an informant for the DEA.”
Amirshahi is seeking a 15-year sentence, arguing that while the amount of cocaine involved is significant, Medina-Escobar was an employee of the cartel, not a leader. And given the attempt on his life, it is questionable whether he could have walked away.
“Despite these attempts on his life and the general violence surrounding Los Cachiros, Mr. Medina-Escobar never resorted to a single act of violence,” Amirshahi added.
The government is asking for a prison term of 262 months, or nearly 22 years, at the low end of the guidelines.
Erik S. Siebert, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote that Medina-Escobar oversaw aircraft alterations that allowed planes to fly longer distances, communicated with Colombian cocaine sources to negotiate purchases, and assisted in the planning of the logistics required to transport cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras.
He scouted locations for clandestine airstrips, marked landing strip locations with global positioning devices, and served as the communication link between pilots and Honduran-based traffickers, Siebert said.
“On the one flight at issue, Medina and his co-conspirators transported 1,025 kilograms of cocaine,” Siebert wrote. “In sheer numbers, this translates into millions of individual doses and tens of millions of dollars on the street.”