Leader of area drug-trafficking operation sentenced to 40 years

Matthew Lane • Nov 28, 2012 at 10:41 AM

GREENEVILLE — One of the ringleaders of a vast cocaine- and marijuana-trafficking operation in the Tri-Cities area has been sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.

Tomas Estrada Sarabia, 38, of Johnson City, received the 40-year prison sentence in U.S. District Court in Greeneville on Tuesday. Sarabia (also known as “Primo”) pleaded guilty in August 2011 to distribution and/or possession of cocaine and/or marijuana and possession of a firearm during a drug-trafficking offense.

Federal prosecutors hit Sarabia, along with 35 other individuals, with a 107-count indictment in October 2011, charging them with engaging in large-scale cocaine and marijuana trafficking from May 2008 through October 2010.

Most of the other defendants have been sentenced for their roles in the operation. Sarabia and the majority of the other individuals involved in this case were in the United States illegally and will be deported after serving their sentences.

Law enforcement agents made more than 100 cocaine buys from various individuals involved in the conspiracy. At this time, 34 of individuals have been sentenced.

According to court records, Sarabia was a primary source of the supply and distribution of cocaine and marijuana in the Tri-Cities area, with a majority of his supply coming from Mexico. The drugs were transported to several main hubs in the United States, including Chicago and Houston, and then distributed throughout the country.

Prosecutors said Sarabia obtained approximately one kilogram of cocaine every two weeks that he redistributed or had others redistribute for him in the Eastern District of Tennessee.

On 25 separate occasions, Sarabia sold cocaine or assisted in the sale of cocaine to an individual working with law enforcement, and during at least two of these transactions he possessed firearms.

Ultimately, law enforcement agents executed 13 search warrants at various locations in Johnson City, Kingsport and Knoxville, during which agents found approximately 3.5 kilograms of cocaine, 200 pounds of marijuana and a significant number of firearms and ammunition. Following a search of Sarabia’s residence, law enforcement located a half kilogram of cocaine, several firearms, ammunition and digital scales.

“Our prosecutors and the federal and state law enforcement agencies working on this case did a tremendous job of obtaining and presenting the evidence,” said U.S. Attorney William C. Killian. “We were able to show the scope of the drug distribution activities of the organization, including the use and threatened use of firearms that often attaches to the illegal distribution of drugs.”

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