The judge heard a long list of bad stuff about Jorge Hernandez, the heavily tattooed, bodybuilding ex-U.S. Army soldier who ran one of the largest Molly drug rings in Miami history.
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Three beautiful women, his ex-lovers facing prison time themselves, blamed Hernandez for fueling their drug addictions while convincing them to help smuggle in kilos of the synthetic drug from China. Two of them accused him of physical and psychological abuse.
One of his buddies insisted he helped Hernandez only to partake in the lifestyle of night clubs, porn stars and luxury rides.
But once he was caught, Hernandez proved to be an ace undercover operative – making drug deals that helped agents bust 13 other people. “The best I’ve seen in my experience,” federal prosecutor Marton Gyires told the judge on Monday during his sentencing.
That cooperation, combined with Hernandez’s impressive service in the military– he served in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Arabic-speaking translator – persuaded U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno to shave some time off what could have been a sentence of at least 10 years in prison. The end result: Hernandez, 37, will serve only four years.
“It wasn’t just service. It was combat duty,” Moreno said. “He should be given credit for his service to the military.”
In all, the judge sentenced Hernandez and seven others on Monday to terms ranging from 18 months to five years in prison, nearly ending the legal case against Miami’s “Molly Machine” – profiled in the Miami Herald last November.
Only one defendant – one-time law student Mario Melton, convicted at trial of helping Hernandez import bulk loads of Molly – remains to be sentenced next month. Hernandez testified twice against Melton, who is the son of Miami-Dade lobbyist Eston “Dusty” Melton.
Hernandez and his best friend, Matthew Anich, ran the lucrative Molly operation, a business model that has proliferated in South Florida in recent years and was chronicled in the Herald series Pipeline China. Like others in the emerging drug game, the two ordered the drugs through Chinese websites, which in turn mailed the packages through the U.S. mail and private delivery services.
Together, the group is believed to have imported hundreds of kilos of methylone and ethylone, synthetic drugs marketed as Molly in South Florida clubs. Retail profits could run as high as $30,000 to $40,000 a kilo.
Authorities got their first window into the operation after police were called out to a scene involving Anich’s girlfriend, a porn star named Selena Rose, who in a fit of anger had climbed atop his Porsche naked. She alerted officers to her boyfriend’s drug business. Anich, who is serving a 56-month prison term, cooperated against Hernandez, who in turn helped Homeland Security Investigations agents build their far-reaching case.
In all, over a dozen people have been convicted in various cases, with all but Melton pleading guilty.
Among those sentenced on Monday were two of Hernandez’s former girlfriends who helped him wire money to China, pack the chemicals in pill capsules and pick up the mail packages.
One of them, Carleane Berman, 21, told the judge that she had been an addict since she was 14, a habit that escalated after she fell “madly in love” with the older Hernandez.
“I was caught up in the typical nightlife scene that fueled my addiction,” said Berman, who at one point was earning $4,000 a month performing pornography on the web.
The judge sentenced Berman — who helped the government by testifying in two trials against Melton — to 30 months in federal prison.
Also sentenced was Ashley Sue Morales, 26, a former Hooter waitress and model who was the girlfriend of Hernandez and then the wife of another defendant, Josue Morales, who is now a fugitive. “I want to apologize to my family,” she said tearfully. “I want to be able to move forward from this.”
The judge sentenced Morales to 3 years in prison.
Moreno also sentenced Seth Daniel Murray, 28, the son of two Miami-Dade corrections officers. Murray also wired money and picked up Molly packages, although his lawyer insisted it was only to “endear” himself to the lifestyle enjoyed by Hernandez.
“If someone says beautiful women, porn stars and ‘you can drive my Bentley,’ most people are going to say ‘yes’,” lawyer Scott Saul said.
Judge Moreno sentenced Murray to 50 months in prison, but not before noting: “The fact that he was enamored with the Hernandez lifestyle – I’m sure that love has dissipated by now.”
The attacks on Hernandez rankled his defense lawyer, Ken Swartz, who denied the former soldier ever abused any of his ex-girlfriends.
Hernandez, a Cuban-American, graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in political science in 2001. He joined the Army after the terrorist attacks on the United States.
But after seven years, his military career also was cut short by injury: two fractured discs suffered while rappelling down from a helicopter in Afghanistan. Back in Miami, Hernandez turned to Molly dealing after working as a fitness instructor while struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“He has an amazing military record. He went in a private and came out a second lieutenant,” Swartz said. “He served his country in the military – and in this case.”