An aspiring lawyer helped boost the profits of Miami’s biggest Molly trafficker when he let him receive illegal packages of synthetic drugs imported from China at his family’s shipping business, a prosecutor said at the student’s federal trial on Monday.
Mario Raul Melton “used his grandfather’s freight company to make himself and his friends a lot of money,” prosecutor Vanessa Snyder argued during opening statements of the trial.
She said that over a five-month period in 2014, Melton collaborated with the Molly dealer to bring in 40 kilos of the party drug. His cut: $500 a kilo.
“He would even open the packages and count the kilos to make sure he wasn’t ripped off,” Snyder told the 12-person jury. “He even made up fake invoices.”
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Melton, 30, the son of a high-profile Miami-Dade County lobbyist, is the only defendant among a dozen charged who opted to go to trial instead of cutting a plea deal. Melton is charged with conspiring to import ethylone, an offshoot of the once-popular drug ecstasy, as well as a steroid called oxymetholone. He is also charged with conspiring to distribute those narcotics in South Florida.
Melton is accused of collaborating with the group’s ring leader, Jorge Ramon Hernandez, to have the drugs delivered to Transfreight International, a Miami-Dade company owned by his grandfather. The prosecutor said the family’s business was used as a “cover” to import and conceal bigger loads of Molly, which were ordered over the Internet from Chinese labs.
But Melton’s defense attorney urged jurors to look carefully at the evidence, arguing that prosecutors have no direct proof that the defendant was involved in Hernandez’s Molly racket. “Show me an email connected to Mario Melton,” attorney Michael Rosen said. “Show me a drug connected to Mario Melton. Show me a dollar connected to Mario Melton.”
During his opening statement, Rosen asked his client to stand by his side for a moment so jurors could take a good look at him. “I don’t want you to be afraid of looking at him with his life on the line,” the lawyer said. “He would never do anything to put his family’s or his grandfather’s life in jeopardy.”
The greatest challenge for the defense will be the prosecution’s star witness, Hernandez, who took the witness stand late Monday and will resume testimony on Tuesday.
Hernandez, 35, the bodybuilding ex-soldier who spearheaded the largest synthetic drug ring in Miami history, pleaded guilty last month along with eight associates. All may get prison time, but Hernandez is facing the most significant punishment — up to 15 years behind bars for importing Molly from Chinese chemical labs between 2011 and 2015.
The rise and fall of Hernandez and his best friend, former U.S. Marine Matthew Anich, was chronicled last year in the Miami Herald. They embodied a new breed of South Florida drug dealers, mostly middle- to upper-class people who use the Internet to buy cheaply made synthetic drugs from overseas through the mail, an illegal trade detailed in the newspaper's Pipeline China series.
The ring was ultimately busted after a Miami porn star, angry at her boyfriend who was part of the group, tipped off police to his importation of Molly from China.
Anich, 30, secretly cooperated with federal agents to target Hernandez, who in turn went undercover for the feds to bust eight others — including three former lovers, an interior designer and Melton, the son of lobbyist Eston “Dusty” Melton. One of the defendants, Josue Morales Figueroa, is a fugitive.
Hernandez and Anich both had promising military careers derailed by injuries. Federal agents say Hernandez and Anich deployed girlfriends and buddies to acquire and sell Molly ordered on the Internet from China and shipped through the mail.
Hernandez admitted to importing up to 120 kilos of Molly and laundering more than half-a-million in dirty money, prosecutor Marton Gyires said at his sentencing hearing.
For his cooperation, Hernandez could see a significant reduction in prison time for his testimony against Melton, who was arrested in October. He was attending law school at St. Thomas University.
Anich, who is serving about five years in prison, also is expected to testify against Melton in the case. It was investigated by agents from U.S. Homeland Security Investigations.