JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A convicted California drug trafficker who paid bribes to a corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration agent has been sentenced by a Florida judge to more than 11 years in federal prison.
U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg said in a news release Tuesday that a judge in Jacksonville, Florida, imposed the sentence on Francisco Gonzalez Benitez, 37, of Orange, California. Gonzalez Benitez pleaded guilty to drug and money laundering charges in April.
Court documents show Gonzalez Benitez admitted shipping large quantities of cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine from California to Jacksonville and Little Rock, Arkansas, between 2016 and 2019.
Prosecutors say Gonzalez Benitez also had worked as an informant for DEA Agent Nathan Koen and paid the agent thousands of dollars in bribes to help provide “top cover protection” for the drug operation.
For example, investigators say Koen told the drug dealer when to avoid shipments in the mail, when to change his phone number and whether law enforcement was looking into him or his customers.
Koen pleaded guilty in Arkansas federal court in August 2021 to a bribery charge and was sentenced in May to 11 years and three months behind bars — the same sentence as Gonzalez Benitez. A brother of Gonzalez Benitez also pleaded guilty to drug and other charges and received a 10-year prison sentence.
The FBI began investigating Koen in 2018. He transferred from Jacksonville to Little Rock in 2016.
The drug trafficker had paid Koen $31,500 before he began cooperating with the FBI, prosecutors said. Koen was arrested after prosecutors said the FBI recorded him accepting a $9,000 bribe from the trafficker inside a Las Vegas casino.