Leader of cartel that reached Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin gets 20 years in prison

In this Jan. 29, 2014, file photo, federal law enforcement agents prepare to conduct searches of homes in rural Patterson.
In this Jan. 29, 2014, file photo, federal law enforcement agents prepare to conduct searches of homes in rural Patterson. Modesto Bee file

A San Joaquin County man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in leading a large drug-trafficking operation that included substantial marijuana grows in Stanislaus County, according to the California Department of Justice.

Francisco Felix, 45, of Mountain House “coordinated the smuggling of vast amounts of methamphetamine from Mexico into the United States and facilitated their distribution throughout the Central Valley,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in a news release.

On Aug. 7 of last year, a federal jury convicted Felix of one count of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, one count of conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana and three counts of using a cellphone to facilitate a drug-trafficking crime.

In February 2014, he and 13 other defendants were charged with a number of drug-trafficking crimes. Felix is the only defendant to go to trial; 10 co-defendants pleaded guilty and three are fugitives, the news release said.

The case arose from a yearlong investigation involving wiretaps, confidential informants and purchases of automatic weapons and drugs. The investigation revealed a drug-trafficking organization with connections to the state of Sinaloa in Mexico. Evidence at trial showed Felix and his network were capable of importing 50 pounds of methamphetamine (wholesale value about $200,000) into the United States every eight days.

On Jan. 29, 2014, local, state and federal authorities conducted dozens of simultaneous raids in Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin counties. Properties were searched in Modesto, Patterson, Ceres, Turlock, Newman, Tracy, Stockton, Stevinson and Mountain House.

A Tuolumne Road property south of Modesto was associated with Felix. According to a search warrant affidavit, the property is “associated with a suspected drug cartel-related double homicide that occurred in 2010. The victims of that homicide, Jose and Luis Villa Rubio, have not been located. Francisco Felix remains a suspect in that homicide investigation.”

Luis and Jose Villa Rubio were reported missing in April of that year. The two last were seen in Modesto.