BUFFALO — A North Tonawanda man busted with 30 kilos of cocaine as he drove away from a Grand Island auto dealership will now spend 12 years behind bars.

Chief U.S. Court District Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. sentenced Edgar Joel Jimenez-Rodriguez, 39, to 144 months in prison for his guilty plea to a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and to distribute, five kilograms or more of cocaine. The charge carried a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, a maximum of life and a $10 million fine.

Drug investigators said that In the history of dug seizures in Western New York, the take from Jimenez-Rodriguez was huge. The drugs were hidden inside an SUV being dropped off at the auto dealership.

Agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and investigators with the New York State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team (C-NET) and the Niagara Falls Police Department’s Narcotics Intelligence Division were in the vicinity of Whitehaven and Baseline roads on July 19, 2018 when they observed a car hauler, which was loaded with several newer-looking Toyota vehicles and an older model black Mercury Mariner.

The investigators said they were drawn to the Mercury SUV when the hauler pulled into the back parking lot of a Toyota dealership there because “Toyota doesn’t manufacture or sell Mercury vehicles and there was no Mercury vehicle dealer in the vicinity of the Toyota dealership.”

Agents said they saw Jimenez-Rodriguez, driving a grey Honda Accord, enter the Toyota car dealership parking lot shortly after the hauler arrived. Jimenez-Rodriguez watched as two men began to unload cars from the hauler and the Mercury Mariner was unloaded, he got into the SUV and drove it away.

The task force team stopped Jimenez-Rodriguez a short distance from the dealership, and as they performed a security sweep around the SUV, they noticed clear plastic wrapping poking out from the under the rear cargo area of the vehicle. A drug-detecting K-9 from the U.S. Border Patrol was brought in and alerted to the rear cargo area.

Hours later, the agents executed a search warrant on the vehicle and located 30 kilograms of cocaine stashed in the cargo area. The street value of the cocaine was estimated at $1 million.

Federal prosecutors said in May 2018, investigators intercepted numerous conversations involving Jimenez-Rodriguez discussing cocaine trafficking and the money that could be made from trafficking drugs. They said many of those conversations were with co-conspirators Jose Garcia-Santiago, Katherine Dejesus-Gonzalez.

On May 26, 2018, law enforcement officers stopped a vehicle, driven by Garcia-Santiago with DeJesus-Gonzalez as the passenger, and found five kilograms of cocaine inside. Prosecutors said Jimenez-Rodriguez had sent Garcia-Santiago and DeJesus-Gonzalez to New York City to pick-up the cocaine.

Prosecutors also said in September 2017, the U.S. Postal Service intercepted packages arriving from Puerto Rico and addressed to various residences in Niagara Falls. Postal inspectors seized approximately five kilograms of cocaine that were intended for Jimenez-Rodriguez and his co-conspirators.

Garcia-Santiago has also been convicted in connection with the drug conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing. Charges remain pending against Dejesus-Gonzalez.

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