Jacksonville, Florida – U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis has sentenced Francisco Gonzalez Benitez (37, Orange, California) to 11 years and 3 months in federal prison for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances (including kilogram quantities of cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, marijuana, and methamphetamine), distribution of methamphetamine, and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. Gonzalez Benitez had pleaded guilty on April 15, 2021.
According to court documents, between at least 2016 and February 2019, Gonzalez Benitez—a/k/a “Paco,” “Antonio Jose Estremera Feliciano,” and “Luis Angel Beauchamp-Justiniano”—operated multi-state conspiracies to distribute controlled substances and launder the proceeds of the enterprise. He and his co-conspirators shipped drugs from Southern California to Jacksonville and other locations hidden in U.S. Mail parcels and vehicles being transported on car haulers. Investigators ultimately identified more than 100 parcels that had been shipped to Jacksonville as part of the conspiracy. The proceeds from this drug business were funneled through various bank accounts in a manner designed to both distribute funds among co-conspirators and conceal the nature and source of those funds. A financial investigator analyzed the conspirators’ banking activity and estimated that individuals and entities in the Jacksonville-portion of the operation made approximately $416,144 in cash deposits and other transfers into the accounts of individuals and entities in the California-portion of the business.
When confronted by FBI Special Agents about these activities, Gonzalez admitted his role in shipping drugs from California to Jacksonville, but also confirmed that he was a source of supply of controlled substances in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition, he disclosed that, beginning in 2014, he had worked in Jacksonville as a confidential informant with DEA Special Agent Nathan Koen, but throughout 2016 and 2017, Gonzalez Benitez made several cash payments to that federal agent. Gonzalez Benitez continued to pay Koen after Koen was promoted and transferred to Little Rock. The periodic payments, as large as $9,000 per transaction, were made for what Gonzalez Benitez called “top cover protection” for his drug operation. This protection included Koen advising Gonzalez Benitez when not to use the mail to ship controlled substances, when to change his phone number, and when he and his potential customers were under investigation by law enforcement.
Koen was subsequently prosecuted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. On August 18, 2021, Koen pleaded guilty to receiving a bribe as a public official. He was sentenced on May 11, 2022, to 11 years and 3 months in federal prison.
On July 16, 2019, Gonzalez Benitez’s brother and co-conspirator, Jose Manuel Gonzalez (25, Jacksonville) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances (including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine) and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. On May 23, 2022, he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Coolican.