A Montreal man pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday in Vermont to being part of an effort to smuggle 1,500 kilos (3,300 pounds) of cocaine from Peru to Vermont and then to Canada in a plot that prosecutors say was connected to the kidnapping of an older New York couple last year.
During a U.S. District Court video hearing Thursday, prosecutors said the conspiracy plot that involved Georges Yaghmour, 40, was part of the same plan that resulted in the kidnapping of the Moira, New York, couple in September 2020, although prosecutors did not allege Yaghmour took part in the kidnapping.
The couple were held for ransom after 50 kilos (110 pounds) of cocaine failed to reach its intended destination in Canada. The other conspirators did not realize the cocaine had been seized in South Burlington, Vermont, by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents. The couple were taken to Canada and later rescued by Quebec police.
Yaghmour was arrested in Florida in November 2020, where he had traveled to discuss why the cocaine had not been delivered as scheduled, authorities said.
The charge to which Yaghmour pleaded, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine, carries a maximum sentence of up to 40 years in prison. The plea agreement calls for a sentence of just over 11 years. Sentencing is scheduled for March.
During the 40-minute hearing, Yaghmour acknowledged he participated in the cocaine conspiracy but he said he did not take part in the kidnapping.
U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford outlined to Yaghmour the consequences of entering a guilty plea, including that as a Canadian citizen he could be prohibited from reentering the United States after he returns to Canada.
“My biggest punishment is I cannot come back to the States,” Yaghmour said.
Prosecutors say Yaghmour, at the direction of others, was involved in a meeting in Burlington in December 2019 to discuss the plan to move cocaine between Peru and Canada via Vermont.
At the meeting, which included an undercover DEA operative and another person who was cooperating with law enforcement, Yaghmour asked about shipping the drugs from South America to Mexico, but the DEA agent proposed shipping the drugs to Vermont for further distribution, according to the plea agreement.
A couple weeks later, an unnamed co-conspirator delivered $150,000 to the undercover agent as a down payment. In spring 2020, the DEA undercover operation took delivery of cocaine in South America for shipment to Canada via Vermont, according to the plea agreement.
Two controlled deliveries were conducted, one in Massachusetts and the other in Vermont, but none of the drug reached its intended destination in Canada.
It was after the Vermont shipment failed to arrive at its Canadian destination that the New York couple — ages 70 and 76, and the grandparents of one of the Vermont couriers — were kidnapped by others involved in the conspiracy, authorities said.
They were taken across the border and moved to a house in Magog, Quebec. The kidnappers asked for a ransom of the 50 kilos of cocaine that had been seized in Burlington or a payment of $3.5 million.