McALLEN, TX - A McAllen jury convicted a San Juan resident of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute approximately 528 kilograms of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and being a felon in possession of a firearm, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Acting Special Agent in Charge, Thomas E. Hinojosa and José Angel Moreno announced this afternoon.
Israel Avila, 50, of San Juan, Texas, was convicted today after a one-day trial before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane of storing marijuana at his mother’s residence where he lives, as well as possession of firearm by a felon. The jury heard testimony yesterday from the DEA case agent that on March 3, 2011, the agent received information that marijuana was about to be moved from a stash house along the Rio Grande River near San Juan to another stash house. Acting upon said information, the agents located the property which was next to the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge approximately a quarter mile from the Rio Grande River.
According to testimony, the agents made contact with Avila and obtained consent from him to search the property. During the search, Avila advised the agents that they would find the bundles of marijuana in a chicken coop in the back of the property. He also provided a key to the fence gate surrounding the area of the property where the chicken coop was located. Upon searching that section of the property, agents found two bundles of marijuana and wrappings in a locked house and an additional 28 bundles of marijuana behind the house in the chicken cages. The agents had already found one partial bundle of marijuana in another house on the property which Avila claimed was for his own personal use. The aggregate weight of the 28 bundles found in the chicken cages and the two bundles found in the house was approximately 528 kilograms.
Avila claimed he knew about the marijuana on the property but that he could not talk to the agents out of fear of what may happen to his mother, who was not currently at home. Avila also advised the agents during the search that he had two firearms on the property. The agents then found a 38-caliber revolver and a 22-caliber rifle in the residence. He later admitted to an ATF agent that he owned the firearms and that since he had a prior felony conviction he was aware he was not allowed to own the firearms. He claimed he purchased the weapons for his protection and the protection of his mother.
Avila unsuccessfully tried to explain to the jury that the firearms were antiques and that he needed the firearms for the personal protection of his mom as well as himself and that while he knew the marijuana was on his property, he ignored it, repeatedly claiming it was not his.
Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 4, 2011, at 2:00 before Judge Crane, at which time he faces five to 40 years in prison for each of the two drug counts and a $5 million fine as well as a maximum of 10 years and a $250,000 fine for the felon in possession conviction. Avila had been in custody since his arrest on March 3, 2011, where he will remain pending his sentencing hearing.
This investigation was conducted by the DEA and Border Patrol. The prosecution was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Juan F. Alanis.