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‘Aquaman’ pleads guilty to role in extensive drug-trafficking ring

SAN DIEGO – A Guatemalan national who once helped run an extensive drug-trafficking network pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Thursday to narcotics charges carrying a possible life prison sentence.

Luis Carlos Melgar-Morales, 28, admitted that he had a leadership role in an international conspiracy to distribute more than 10,000 kilograms of cocaine in the United States over a two-year period beginning in January 2016.

Nicknamed “Aquaman,” Melgar-Morales arranged on numerous occasions for speedboats to transport bulk cocaine from Colombia and Ecuador to Costa Rica and Guatemala, from which the drug would be transported to Mexico and then smuggled into the United States, according to court documents.

Homeland Security Investigation agents and Customs and Border Protection officers arrested Melgar-Morales at Los Angeles International Airport in January as he was about to return to his Central American home country.

“Federal law enforcement officials worked together in three countries to successfully disrupt a dangerous drug-trafficking ring that sought to smuggle 10,000 kilos of cocaine with a retail value of $600 million into the U.S.,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said.

“Through effective partnerships and excellent intelligence gathering tools, we intercepted significant loads of this highly addictive stimulant, stripped traffickers of drug profits and helped to safeguard our communities.”

Melgar-Morales will face a maximum punishment of 10 years to life in custody and a $1 million fine at his sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 18.