Man sentenced to more than 5 years over meth airdrop into California desert


A photo of a damaged off-road vehicle used to retrieve methamphetamine near the Salton Sea is seen in a photo released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. (KTLA)

A Mexican man was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison Monday for trying to distribute methamphetamine that was dropped into the California desert by an airplane, authorities said.

Juan Carlos Iturriaga-Centeno, 34, had pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

He is a Mexican national who was living in Mecca in Riverside County, authorities said.

According to prosecutors, in December 2019, Iturriaga-Centeno and three other men took off-road vehicles into the desert near the Salton Sea and waited for an ultralight airplane that had crossed into the United States from Mexico.

The plane dropped a parachute carrying GPS-tagged packages containing 116 pounds of methamphetamine, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The men then used a cell phone to track and pick up the packages.

However, U.S. authorities had tracked the plane and the U.S. Border Patrol later stopped the off-road vehicle carrying Iturriago-Centeno and his brother, authorities said. A second off-road vehicle sped off but went into a canal and the Border Patrol rescued two men.

Leonardo Iturriago-Centeno, 30, and Juan Favela-Paredez, 26, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and were sentenced to 57 months in federal prison while Victor Efren Bugarin-Perez, 30, of Mecca, is a fugitive after fleeing while on bond in the case, authorities said.

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