3 Mexican drug ring members sentenced

SAN FRANCISCO The three men - Anthony Johnston, Vincente Franco Escalera and Jose Ceja Mendoza - were among nine people arrested on Feb. 4, 2009, in a federal sweep that was part of an effort to cut off drug and weapons trafficking from Mexico. All nine have pleaded guilty to various charges, and all but two have now been sentenced. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced the ring's leader, Rafael Franco Perez, 39, of Redwood City, to 30 years in prison. He gave Perez's top lieutenant, Cornelio Mata Espinoza, 31, of Richmond, a prison term of 25 years and 10 months. Both Perez and Espinoza will be deported to Mexico after completing their sentences, according to prosecutors. Breyer imposed the three most recent sentences on Wednesday. He sentenced Johnston, 53, of San Francisco, to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors described him as a street-level dealer of methamphetamine and heroin provided by the ring. Johnston admitted during his guilty plea on Sept. 23 to selling an undercover federal agent in San Francisco a total of nearly five pounds of heroin, 1.5 ounces of methamphetamine, and a gun between 2006 and 2009, according to court documents. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute the two drugs and one count of having been an ex-felon in possession of a gun. Escalera, 49, of Stockton, who acted as a driver and distributor for Perez, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and heroin and one count of possession of methamphetamine. Mendoza, age unknown, of Los Banos in Merced County, was given a prison term of five years and 10 months. He pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to distribute the two drugs. Prosecutors described Mendoza as a "one-time courier" who drove a truck with nearly 15 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in a secret compartment from Mexico to Northern California in 2008.
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