LAREDO, TX – After a two-day trial, a federal jury has found a Donna, Texas, man guilty of conspiring to and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Special Agent In Charge, Thomas Hinojosa and United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today. The verdicts were returned late yesterday afternoon in U.S. District Judge Diana Saldaña’s court.
Jose Alberto Peña, 35, of Donna, Texas, faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years up to a maximum of life imprisonment, a fine of up to $8 million and at least an eight-year-term of supervised release on each of the two counts of conviction. Peña, who has been in federal custody without bond since his arrest, will remain in custody pending sentencing set for July 6, 2011.
During the trial, the jury heard testimony from Border Patrol (CBP) agents and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents that Peña was arrested at IH-35 checkpoint at the 29-mile marker on Feb. 9, 2011, after a load of 150 bundles of marijuana was discovered hidden in a false compartment of the otherwise empty trailer Peña was towing.
The search resulting in the discovery of the contraband was initiated after a trained CBP service K-9 alerted to the trailer during immigration inspection. The trailer was sent to a backscatter X-Ray machine and an anomaly was detected in the forward wall of the trailer. CBP agents removed the plywood boards and a metal plate that disguised an 18-inch space stacked floor to ceiling with tape-wrapped bundles of marijuana. The 150 bundles had a total combined weight of 2,087 pounds (947 kilograms) of marijuana.
Prior to his arrest, Peña told CBP agents that he was employed with the trucking company for two days and that, not being able to find a load in McAllen, he drove empty in Laredo. After still having no luck in Laredo finding a load, Peña claimed that he was now heading up to San Antonio, empty, to get a load there. Peña also claimed he didn’t know where in San Antonio to go but that he was going to get a call. After his arrest, Peña later told DEA special agents that he was unemployed.
The case resulting in the convictions was investigated by CBP, DEA, the DEA South Central Laboratory in Dallas, and the Department of Public Safety. Assistant United States Attorney Roberto F. Ramirez tried the case.