TAMPA — The last of seven men accused of operating a multimillion-dollar cocaine ring in Pasco County was convicted Tuesday on drug and gun charges in U.S. District Court.
Rogelio Zarco Perez, 37, of 12019 Duck Lake Canal Road in Dade City was found guilty by Judge Richard A. Lazzara following a bench trial.
Perez was convicted of conspiring to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, possessing 5 kilograms or more of cocaine with intent to distribute, possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm.
Far more than 5 kilograms of cocaine was involved, though. The trial revealed that in 2007 authorities began to suspect Perez's 5-acre spread in Dade City stored drugs and money linked to distribution points that included a horse farm in Ocala and other locations.
Pasco sheriff's deputies and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents tracked vehicles going between Dade City and 7755 Merchantville Circle in Zephyrhills, and in January 2008, a search of the Zephyrhills location turned up a .45 caliber pistol and drug ledgers listing sales of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine.
Last August, agents tracked a truck as it left Perez's home, and Highway Patrol troopers found more than $2.2 million in a fuel tank. Driver Lazaro Merino, 44, of Miami was arrested.
DEA agents searched Perez's house the next day and found 52 kilograms of cocaine — valued at about $1.5 million — buried in a barn along with $119,940. Inside the house, they found $156,000, more records of drug sales and a pistol. They arrested Perez and a Jorge Castillo Ramos, 38.
DEA agents also went to a house in Ocala based on surveillance that showed traffic between it and Dade City. While there, Valentin Lozano Alvarez, Jesus Lozano Alvarez and Jose Hector Cruz arrived with $171,000 and 5 kilograms of cocaine in their truck, agents said.
In another Ocala house, agents found $3,000 and a money-wrapping machine.
The next day, they searched an Ocala horse farm and found $60,965, plus 15 assault rifles and ammunition.
Five of the men arrested — Merino, Ramos, Cruz, Valentin Lozano Alvarez and Jesus Lozano Alvarez — pleaded guilty and were convicted of conspiracy to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine.
Audel Arrizon Lopez, 37, of Norcross, Ga., pleaded guilty to conspiracy and possession charges. Prosecutors say he drove specially modified cars to Perez's home with "trap'' compartments for hiding cocaine.
All await sentencing.