Tongan cartel bodyguard jailed for 20 years over drug trafficking

A Tongan bodyguard whom Mexican drug cartels had hired was last week sentenced for 20 years imprisonment for his role in transporting cocaine on flights from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

According to Texas U.S. Attorney’s Office Funaki Falahola, 35, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle to 240 months in federal prison following his guilty plea in May 2016 to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute at least five kilograms or more of cocaine.

Falahola has been in custody since mid-July 2015 following a law enforcement operation, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Dallas Police Department and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, in which numerous defendants were arrested on drug distribution conspiracy and related charges outlined in a federal superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Dallas the previous month.

That superseding indictment charged Funaki Falahola and three others, Moniteveti Katoa, 53, Molitoni Katoa, 34, and Janelle Isaacs, 42, with the cocaine distribution conspiracy offense.  All four defendants pleaded guilty to the offense.  In September 2016, Moniteveti Katoa was sentenced to 188 months and Molitoni Katoa was sentenced to 90 months in federal prison.  Janelle Isaacs is scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2016.  The statutory penalty for the offense is not less than 10 years and up to life in federal prison and a $10 million fine.

Funaki Falahola told undercover officers he had family members that could transport controlled substances via commercial airline. Funaki Falahola introduced Moniteveti Katoa to agents as his Uncle and family leader. Molitoni Katoa was also introduced as Falahola’s cousin and a person that could smuggle controlled substances into the DFW airport through his job at the cargo area at the DFW airport. Moniteveti Katoa’s wife, Janelle Isaacs, worked for American Airlines.

According to documents filed in the case, the four used their positions of employment at DFW, or contacted a person or persons who had a position or positions of employment at DFW, to bypass security in order to transport kilogram quantities of a substance that was represented to be cocaine, in what they did not know was an undercover law enforcement operation.  As part of the conspiracy, that ran from approximately April 18, 2013, through July 14, 2015, the substance that was represented to be cocaine was transported on commercial airlines flying from DFW to destinations in Las Vegas, Nevada; Newark, New Jersey; Phoenix, Arizona; Chicago, Illinois; Wichita Kansas; and San Francisco, California.

Falahola introduced Moniteveti Katoa to the undercover officer who was interested in smuggling cocaine from DFW Airport.  He noted that Moniteveti Katoa had worked for American Airlines for 25 years and was a leader in the Tongan community.  Falahola advised the undercover officers that they could transport the cocaine to major U.S. cities as well as to Hawaii and New Zealand.  Moniteveti Katoa advised the undercover officer that he was willing to fly to locations in advance of smuggling the cocaine to conduct security checks.  In fact, from September 2013 through May 2015, Moniteveti Katoa smuggled what he thought was cocaine on at least six flights from DFW Airport to Las Vegas, Newark, Chicago, Wichita, San Francisco, and Tempe, Arizona.  Falahola was with Moniteveti Katoa on the Las Vegas trip.

In June 2013, Falahola and other defendants provided security in a drug protection arrangement for the sale of 20 kilograms of cocaine in Dallas.  Falahola was paid $2800 for his protection services, and he paid the others out of this money.

The FBI, Dallas Police Department and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation led the investigation with assistance from the Texas Department of Public Safety; the DFW Department of Public Safety; the U.S. Department of State; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Transportation Security Administration; the U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations; and the Fort Worth, McKinney, Mesquite, and Plano Police Departments.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Leal is in charge of the prosecution.

– U.S. Attorneys Northern District of Texas


Tongan ringleader in US gets 15 years for smuggling cocaine on flights

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