Charter air service owner pleads guilty to coke charge

The owner of a mainland charter airplane service indicted in December on several charges of selling cocaine he flew into the United States on his planes from the Dominican Republic pleaded guilty to one of those charges last week as part of a deal with federal prosecutors.

Jose Patin, 66, owner of Elite Air Transport LLC, based at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport in Broward County, pleaded guilty April 20 to one count of possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine. He’s not yet been sentenced, but the charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison and a maximum of 40 years.

His partner, Wilkin de Jesus Matos Feliz, 32, pleaded guilty of one count of possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. He faces a minimum of 10 years in prison. Both men were indicted on three counts each and faced life if a jury found them guilty during a trial.

Patin also must pay the government $3.5 million, much of which can be satisfied with the sale of his two airplanes, according to the plea agreement.

The two men were arrested late last year following a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting using an undercover informant.

The informant told U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents that Patin sold him multiple kilos of cocaine and heroin in the past and that Patin smuggled the drugs into the country “through a variety of methods, including hidden in planes operated by Patin’s charter air business” at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, according to the DEA’s probable cause complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 7.

A grand jury on Dec. 18 indicted Patin on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to sell five kilograms of cocaine and two counts of possessing with intent to sell more than 500 grams of cocaine. Feliz, who also goes by the name Chu Chu, was indicted on the same charges.

According to the DEA affidavit, the informant, under the direction of federal agents, arranged to meet with Patin at the Islander Cafe on Brickell Avenue in Miami on Nov. 15. While there, Patin agreed to give several kilograms of cocaine to the informant on consignment, according to the affidavit.

Agents say Patin then asked the informant if he knew anyone who was in the market for 20 kilograms of cocaine and the informant answered yes. Patin said he had two kilograms for the informant but not nearby. He gave the informant a prepaid phone on which to communicate about their new business arrangement, agents said.

Feliz then arrived at the Islander and Patin gave him a key and told him to “go get the box,” according to the complaint. Feliz got into a Toyota Tundra pickup and drove to Patin’s apartment building. He went inside the building and drove to a parking garage near the Islander a few minutes later, agents said. Feliz gave Patin a box and Patin opened the lid to show the informant two kilos of cocaine.

On Dec. 1, the informant and Patin spoke on a phone call recorded by the DEA. Patin and Feliz were in the Dominican Republic. Patin said he would be returning to the states the week of Dec. 5 and would collect the proceeds from the cocaine he consigned to the informant. Patin, according to the DEA complaint, also said he was putting together another load of cocaine to bring back to South Florida. The informant asked Patin for another kilo during the phone call.

On Dec. 6, the informant met with Patin and Feliz at the Islander. The DEA gave the informant a suitcase of “flash money.” During the meeting, which agents recorded, Patin asked the informant why it took so long to collect the money for the sale of the original two kilos. The informant answered it was due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Patin also asked where the money was, and the informant told him it was in the trunk of his car.

The men also agreed to another four-kilogram cocaine deal before the informant gave Patin the keys to his car. Patin and Feliz left the Islander and were about to enter the informant’s car parked in a nearby garage when DEA agents arrested the pair.

Agents then carried out a search warrant on Patin’s apartment and a Toyota Highlander SUV. Inside the SUV, the agents found two boxes, each containing two kilograms of cocaine, according to the DEA complaint.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204