InSight Crime has uncovered new details about a plea agreement between US federal prosecutors and Wilter Neptalí Blanco Ruíz, the alleged leader of one of Honduras’ most notorious drug trafficking groups, raising questions about what information the fallen kingpin may provide to authorities.
On August 17, Blanco, the purported leader of the Atlantic Cartel, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a US federal court in Miami, after he agreed to plead guilty to one drug charge, according to court records.
Blanco was indicted by US authorities on August 5, 2016 for conspiring to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine knowing that it would be imported into the United States. He pleaded guilty to the charge on July 2, 2017.
SEE ALSO: Atlantic Cartel Profile
As part of the plea agreement with US authorities, Blanco has agreed to provide information on his role as the “leader” of an organization that received cocaine in Honduras from Colombia and adjoining countries, which was then resold and sent north to Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, according to the court documents.
Specifically, the deal focuses on two shipments that occurred in January and February 2015 that Blanco was allegedly present for and supervised, one involving 800 kilograms and the other over 1 ton of cocaine.
In October 2016, Blanco was reportedly preparing to turn himself in to US authorities. However, he was arrested a month later near Costa Rica’s capital city of San José in a joint operation between Costa Rican, Honduran and US authorities. He was extradited to the United States directly from Costa Rica.
Blanco also faces money laundering charges in Honduras.
InSight Crime Analysis
Blanco was a long-time player in Honduras’ drug trade as the leader of the Atlantic Cartel, and given his criminal group’s alleged connections with high-ranking military officials, police and politicians, it is possible that he could have a lot of information to provide US authorities.
According to court documents, Blanco has allegedly been involved in drug trafficking since 1999. And by 2016, the United States was reportedly investigating more than 30 Honduran elites — among them mayors, congressional representatives, judges, active military officials and police officers — for suspected ties to Blanco’s Atlantic Cartel.
SEE ALSO: Honduras Elites and Organized Crime
Moreover, Blanco was allegedly the one who paid Honduran police forces to carry out the murder of former Honduras drug czar Julián Arístides González Irías in December 2009. But Blanco’s reach extended outside of Honduras as well. According to press reports, the Atlantic Cartel has also been linked to a prominent member of the Cartel of the Suns, a Venezuelan drug trafficking organization made up of military personnel.
While not much remains of the Atlantic Cartel, the information Blanco may provide to US authorities could be the final nail in the coffin for the group, while also potentially impacting broader criminal dynamics in the region.