Houston man pleads guilty to trafficking fentanyl and more through Southeast Texas

Eugenio Cerda

A 56-year-old Houston man has pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking violations in the Eastern District of Texas, announced U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown June 22.

Eugenio Cerda pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to money launder on June 21 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin.

According to information presented in court, on Jan. 19, 2017, a known drug courier was pulled over after leaving Cerda’s home. Inside the vehicle, officers discovered over a kilogram of fentanyl, which represented DEA’s largest fentanyl seizure in the Houston/Southeast Texas area at that time. Over the course of the next six months, law enforcement surveillance showed Cerda conspired with others to distribute 2.5 kilograms of fentanyl, one kilogram of heroin and over 21 kilograms of cocaine through Southeast Texas and is believed to have laundered at least $1.5 million in drug proceeds. Cerda was indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 10, 2018.

One of Cerda's cohorts in the conspiracy also recently pleaded guilty for his role in the drug ring. Baytown’s Jose Quiroga, 42, pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking violations that allege he conspired to bring drugs to Beaumont and neighboring states on Tuesday, June 12, according to U.S. Attorney Brown.

Information presented in court and provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office showed that Quiroga served as a narcotics and bulk currency courier for a drug trafficking organization led by Cerda. 

“This organization was responsible for trafficking cocaine and fentanyl from the Houston area to Beaumont and further east into Louisiana and Mississippi,” a statement from the Eastern District of Texas revealed following Quiroga's guilty plea. “On June 17, 2017, Quiroga was stopped by law enforcement officers in Beaumont driving a truck registered to Cerda. Agents discovered $51,040 cash, which was the proceeds of a two-kilogram cocaine delivery, concealed in a hidden compartment of the truck’s tailgate.

“Further investigation revealed Quiroga distributed approximately nine kilograms of cocaine for Cerda.”

Quiroga was subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 10, 2018, at the same time as Cerda. Six months later, Quiroga pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to money launder before U.S. Magistrate Judge Giblin. A sentencing date has not been set but will be held after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office. Under federal statutes, Quiroga faces up to life in federal prison at sentencing.

A criminal background check of Cerda shows two prior convictions for the manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance and reveals he spent time behind bars at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility in Huntsville. He first pleaded not guilty and then, after being convicted and sentenced to 35 years, appealed the second drug charge stemming from a 2007 incident during which he tried to purchase a massive amount of cocaine from an undercover officer. 

According to information included in the appeal court's decision, on March 19, 2007, Cerda met with an undercover officer in an atempt to purchase five kilograms of cocaine. Cerda reportedly showed the officer a bag full of rolled twenty- and hundred-dollar bills totaling $75,000. The officer then told Cerda to follow him to a specified location where the cocaine would be waiting. When Cerda began to follow, he was stopped by a group of officers. Pasadena Police Officer Will Kelly, a K-9 handler, performed a search of the vehicle and found the bag of cash and another bag stashed inside a Girl Scouts cookie box. The second bag contained approximately 300 grams of cocaine. 

The appeals court affirmed the trial court's decision and Cerda's 35-year sentence stood. However, he received parole and was released from prison after only 4-and-a-half years in 2013.

Cerda was also convicted of a DWI in 1984. In the past, he has gone by the aliases Jose Gonzalez and Jose Cerda, among others.

Under federal statutes, Cerda faces at least 10 years and up to life in federal prison at sentencing. The maximum statutory sentence prescribed by Congress is provided here for information purposes, as the sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office. 

This case is being prosecuted under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) as a joint investigation. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking organizations, weapons trafficking offenders, money laundering organizations, and those individuals responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher T. Rapp.