San Diego/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on May 18, 2024
Los Angeles Club Promoter "Benji" Sentenced to 12 Years for Operating Drug Ring with College MulesSource: Google Street View

A Los Angeles man, Fernando Castro Bazan, 32, dubbed "Benji" or "Benji Banks", has been sentenced to 12 years behind bars for running a meth racket using college kids as mules. The kingpin capitalized on his dual role as a club promoter and amateur musician to recruit young drivers for smuggling runs. Bazan's operations took a dark turn, entrapping these drivers in federal felony convictions after arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Serving as a pipeline for a Tijuana cartel starting in the spring of 2021, Bazan lured students with cash and free trips to Mexico, prosecutors said. The trap snapped shut with their arrests, each now saddled with drug trafficking records, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office press release. Reflecting on the case, U.S. District Judge Jinsook Ohta stated Bazan had a "catastrophic and terrible impact on the lives of young people—teenagers—who had the misfortune to come across his path."

Bazan, who faced his reckoning in federal court, could have been handed a life sentence plus a $10 million fine; instead, he got 12 years. A drug trafficking charge in Eastern California remains dangling, tied to conspiracy and direct deliveries of narcotics to Northern California buyers.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert J. Miller and Shivanjali A. Sewak prosecuted Bazan, filing charges including conspiracy to import and actual importation of methamphetamine. Both charges carry serious weight, with the former threatening a life term and the latter a ten-year minimum sentence led by Homeland Security Investigations.