A Northern California man has pleaded guilty to operating a cocaine trafficking conspiracy for the Nuestra Familia prison gang, federal authorities announced Monday.

Juan "Wino" Gallegos, 35, of Salinas pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana. He has also pleaded guilty to four other drug trafficking felonies and faces life in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for July 9.

This case is the product of the government's sweeping 2007 gang conspiracy case known as Operation Valley Star. The investigation targeted Nuestra Familia, a violent California Latino prison gang. The gang exerts control over street-level Norteño gang members engaged in drug trafficking and violent crime.

Between 2004 and 2007, Gallegos and others distributed methamphetamine and cocaine for the Nuestra Familia's Salinas Regiment. Gallegos transported, cut, and distributed the drugs. During the same time period, Gallegos also assisted in transporting large loads of methamphetamine and cocaine from Southern California to Northern California.

In May 2007, Gallegos and others met at a bar in San Juan Bautista to plan the transportation and distribution of 20 kilograms of cocaine. A suitable driver was selected based upon his lack of criminal history. A rental car was obtained to act as the "load" car, according to the FBI.

Gallegos helped to provide "security" by following the load car. On May 4, 2007, the two vehicles headed to the Los Angeles area to pick up the cocaine. During the drug exchange, agents intercepted a call with the drug supplier. Gallegos is heard in the background of the call explaining to the supplier that the driver of the load car has a cover story and, if the load car is stopped, Gallegos will use his vehicle to create a diversion.

The initial indictment of 25 defendants in June of 2007 led to two jury trials and the convictions of five defendants on multiple counts of drug trafficking. In the 2009 trial, one defendant demanded a speedy trial and was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. During the 2010 trial, four of the NF's leaders were each convicted on all counts in the indictment after a contentious four-month jury trial.

The investigation was led by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, which was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations.

Cooperating agencies included the FBI's Stockton Violent Crime Task Force, the San Joaquin County Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force, the Stockton Police Department, the Salinas Police Department, the Watsonville Police Department, the Monterey County Sheriff's Department, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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