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Judge sentences man to 40 years in 'Operation Speed Racer'

Jorge "Sneaky" Arandas, the leader of a sprawling drugs-and-murder ring authorities have dubbed "Operation Speed Racer," was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison for importing drugs to the Red River Valley.

Jorge "Sneaky" Arandas, the leader of a sprawling drugs-and-murder ring authorities have dubbed "Operation Speed Racer," was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison for importing drugs to the Red River Valley.

Arandas, who was charged with 13 counts, faced the possibility of a life sentence for crimes that included authorizing the murder of a drug dealer in East Grand Forks, who owed the ring money for a 5-pound methamphetamine delivery.

Arandas, a native of Washington state, was a pivotal figure who was the link to a major Mexican drug cartel, in a ring that funneled drugs from south of the border and the West Coast to the Red River Valley, according to federal prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson told Arandas, 26, that he once displayed kindness and talents that could have served him well if he hadn't chosen a life in the illicit drug trade, causing untold misery for many.

The 2005 slaying of Lee Avila, a drug dealer from East Grand Forks who owed the Arandas organization money, was carried out in front of two young children, one of them Avila's, prosecutors said.

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Accounts from friends and relatives, portraying Arandas as considerate and caring, were hard to square with his cold-blooded business decision to authorize Avila's murder.

"All it shows is there is something about drugs, guns and money that is morally bankrupt," Erickson said before passing sentence.

The 40-year prison term, agreed upon by prosecutors and the defense, reflect both Arandas' significant role in a major drug ring and his cooperation with authorities, said Chris Myers, assistant U.S. attorney.

Arandas' cooperation helped federal authorities indict two suppliers connected to his organization, and another in the San Diego area, Myers said.

"We anticipate being able to indict another source of supply, all of which are the highest level this jurisdiction has seen that I'm aware of," he added.

Steve Mottinger, Arandas' Fargo defense lawyer, called his client a "very engaging individual, very charismatic" who knows he cannot escape from his criminal past without paying a heavy price.

"To his credit, I think, he accepts the fact that he made choices and he's going to have to live with the consequences," Mottinger said. "This is not necessarily a bad man. This is a good man who made some bad choices. Unfortunately, his choices hurt a lot of people."

Arandas once shot an underling, causing him to lose his leg, for failing to try to lay claim to $22,000 in cash seized in Stutsman County, although no drugs were found in the search. After that shooting, Arandas fled to Mexico, where he developed ties with the Arellano Felix cartel, prosecutors said.

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Operation Speed Racer moves forward as two fugitives remain at large, and three high-level defendants await sentencing July 17. More than 60 ring members have been convicted.

"Watching the waves as its come through, it is truly remarkable," U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said. "The altitude of it and the breadth of it is quite sweeping, very likely tied into the very highest levels of drug trafficking."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Springer at (701) 241-5522. The Forum and the Herald are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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