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Mid-level drug dealer sentenced

ALBANY, Ga. -- A man who has pleaded guilty to taking part in a drug conspiracy that prosecutors contend involves dozens of people and millions in illegal drug trafficking was sentenced to federal prison Thursday.

Martin Bustos, an illegal immigrant who was known by his colleagues in the drug trade as "Cheeto" or "Boss Man " according to testimony given by a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation during Thursday's sentencing hearing, was sentenced to 188 months or more than 15 years in prison.

Bustos was eligible for more time in prison under allowable upgrades to his status, but his attorney, Robert McLendon IV of Blakely, successfully argued that Bustos wasn't a leader or organizer of a drug organization as required by law.

Instead, Judge Louis Sands found that, as the U.S. Attorney's office had contended, that Bustos was more than just a willing participant in the drug trade -- that he was more of a manager or supervisor in the organization -- but stopped short of the status that would have allowed the maximum penalty to be issued in the case.

Bustos is the highest-level offender to plead guilty in an ongoing anti-drug trafficking investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration throughout Southwest Georgia.

During testimony given Thursday by Stripling Luke, a GBI agent attached to the Sylvester field office, Bustos was implicated in a conspiracy that put him distributing somewhere between 15 and 50 kilos of cocaine during the time in which he was being watched by state and federal authorities.

Those kilos, the government contends, came from sources both domestic and foreign, including from Bustos' family in Mexico.

Before sentencing, McLendon asked Sands to consider Bustos' upbringing in Mexico and the fact that in 2009 his uncle threatened to harm him and his family if he left the drug business.

Before rendering his verdict, Sands acknowledged Bustos' tough childhood, but also pointed to the fact that the 30-year-old man had been in the country illegally since 1990, and that most of time in the U.S. had been spent involved in the illegal drug trade.