Former intelligence officer Jesus Daniel Romero briefly said that he “actually stopped the flow of cocaine into the country.”
SHERMAN, Texas — A former senior U.S. Department of Defense official testified Wednesday that U.S.-registered aircraft carrying cocaine to Guatemala plummeted after an aircraft trust company operator was indicted on drug trafficking allegations in 2020.
“It was clear something had happened,” former intelligence officer Jesus Daniel Romero said in federal court.
For a short time, Romero said he “actually stopped cocaine from entering the country.”
Aircraft Guaranty Corp. owner Debra Lynn Mercer-Erwin is on trial in federal court in Sherman. Federal prosecutors accused her of “looking the other way” when she allegedly conspired to traffic drugs and concealed her registered ownership and the plane’s whereabouts.
Prosecutors and investigators say a series of stories first aired by the WFAA in 2019 spurred a federal investigation that resulted in the indictment of Mercer Irwin, her daughter and others.
Oklahoma City-based Aircraft Guaranty registers aircraft in the United States with the Trust on behalf of non-U.S. citizens. The FAA allows aliens to obtain U.S. registration of aircraft by transferring ownership to a trust company.
All aircraft registered in the US have an N-Tail number. However, if you review FAA records, aircraft under non-citizen trusts are registered in the trust company’s name, not the foreign owner’s actual name.
Romero, who was in charge of interdiction efforts in Latin America, said 2018 and 2019 saw a surge in the use of U.S.-registered planes. He also said drug traffickers moved from small planes to large, high-speed planes.
He confirmed that within 90 to 120 days of indictment, the use of N-numbered aircraft used for drug smuggling dropped dramatically.
Prosecutors also began presenting evidence Wednesday that planes registered by Mercer Irwin’s company were later seized laden with drugs in Latin and Central America.
A plane seized in Belize in February was at the time the largest cocaine seizure in the country’s history.
The plane had been in trust for several months with the Aircraft Guaranty on behalf of Heriberto Gastelum Calderón, whom authorities later determined was a convicted drug trafficker. After the plane was seized in February 2020, Mercer Irwin sent a letter to his Gastelum stating that AGC would cancel the registration of the plane. Her daughter then submitted a deed of sale transferring the aircraft to Gastelum, even though the aircraft was under government control in Belize, documents show.
Mercer-Erwin, along with one of her accomplices, Federico Machado, has also been accused of running a Ponzi scheme involving fake plane deals. Prosecutors produced evidence that she earned her $4.9 million and Machado received her $75 million.
https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/crime/defense-department-official-testifies-planes-carrying-cocaine-guatemala-dropped-aircraft-trust-company-indictment/287-81b15dcd-6d14-41b9-b740-59d19c0a2cbf Onalaska Trial Continues With Intelligence Agent’s Testimony