Moreno Valley man accused of aiding large narcotics ring
A Moreno Valley man on trial for drug trafficking was part of a team that transported hundreds of pounds of cocaine across Southern California by loading the drugs into an elaborate secret compartment in a tractor trailer, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Derwin Webster, 38, was one of several people charged in connection with what authorities previously described as an expansive trafficking operation run by a large Mexican drug cartel that used Los Angeles as a hub to transport millions of dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana across the United States.
Six years after prosecutors first brought charges, Webster sat silently in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom as Deputy Dist. Atty. Oscar Plascencia laid out the prosecution's case for jurors.
In his opening statement, Plascencia said that in 2006 Webster helped load several hundred pounds of marijuana into a van and later 175 kilos of cocaine into the tractor trailer.
“He made a choice,” Plascencia said of Webster, “and he has to be held responsible for his criminal actions.”
Webster, who is acting as his own attorney, chose not to present an opening statement. Wearing a pale pink dress shirt and dark shiny tie, he appeared hesitant at times, pausing for several seconds between questions as he cross-examined the first witness.
Webster is charged with conspiracy as well as drug transportation and sales. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said he could face a “substantial jail term” if convicted of all charges.
Prosecutors first filed the charges in May 2006, issuing a statement that alleged that Webster and the other suspects were connected to a cartel that moved narcotics smuggled from Mexico across the country to the Midwest and the East Coast. Authorities said they seized $28 million worth of cocaine, along with 657 pounds of marijuana, more than $1 million in cash, handguns, tractor trailers and cars connected to the operation.
During the months-long investigation, authorities said, they used everything from air surveillance to wire taps to bust the drug ring. The alleged ringleader of the operation, Steven Montes, pleaded no contest to two drug-related charges in 2009 and was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.
Webster’s trial will continue Wednesday and could stretch into next week.
-- Matt Stevens