Carlos Maldonado Ortega Sentenced in U.S. District Cour
The United States Attorney's Office announced that during a federal court session in Great Falls, on December 8, 2011, before U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon, CARLOS MALDONADO ORTEGA, a 33-year-old citizen of Mexico, appeared for sentencing. ORTEGA was sentenced to a term of:
Prison: 78 months
Special Assessment: $100
Supervised Release: 5 years
ORTEGA was sentenced in connection with his guilty plea to attempted exportation of cocaine.
In an Offer of Proof filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carl E. Rostad, the government stated it would have proved at trial the following:
On July 24, 2011, ORTEGA attempted to enter Canada at the Port of Entry, Coutts, Alberta. The Canadian entry at Coutts is a few yards from the U.S. Port of Entry at Sweetgrass. ORTEGA was refused entry because he provided inconsistent statements to Canadian authorities about his purpose for entering Canada, and he returned to the United States through the Sweetgrass Port of Entry. ORTEGA was driving a black, 2001 Chevy S-10 pickup registered to him in Denver, Colorado, with Colorado license plate 822XGF.
Computer checks of ORTEGA's crossing history in the Treasury Enforcement Computer System (TECS) indicated that he had numerous crossings utilizing the pedestrian lane at ports of entry in El Paso, Texas. The only northern border crossing found in TECS occurred on the day that ORTEGA was refused entry by Canada.
On July 24, 2011, Canadian law enforcement advised the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), that an unidentified vehicle, suspected of being loaded with cocaine and intended for transport to Canada, was currently in Great Falls at an unknown location.
On July 26, 2011, law enforcement conducting routine checks of motel/hotel parking lots in and around Great Falls, identified a black, 2001 Chevy S-10 pick-up with Colorado license plate number 822XGF parked in front of a local motel. Another vehicle known to law enforcement as possibly being involved with cross- border smuggling activity was also in the parking lot.
On July 27, 2011, law enforcement, who had established surveillance on the vehicles, observed ORTEGA's pickup travel from the hotel to two different auto parts stores. At the second store, agents stopped ORTEGA to discuss his recent activities and movements. An officer advised ORTEGA that the officers were part of a local drug task force and then asked ORTEGA if he would be willing to speak to them to which he agreed.
The officer informed ORTEGA that the agents and officers were aware of the incident in Canada where he had been refused entry. In response to questions, ORTEGA advised that he had recently purchased the truck, then sold it, then bought it back again. The officer asked ORTEGA if he had any narcotics in the vehicle, in reply to which ORTEGA hesitated and then said that he did not.
ORTEGA agreed to a search of his vehicle. Prior to the search a K-9 unit was utilized to check the vehicle and the K-9 reacted positively to the presence of a narcotics odor around the front of the truck bed area. During the course of the search, officers removed the tool box that had been bolted down near the front of the bed of the truck. At the moment that the tool box was unbolted and moved, ORTEGA became noticeably despondent. The officer who had been questioning ORTEGA attempted to ask additional questions, but ORTEGA seemed distracted by the search activities and provided little information.
Once the tool box was removed, officers observed that the wall of the truck bed near the cab of the truck was a different width dimension than the adjacent walls of the truck and began to dismantle the rear wall where they soon found a large amount of auto body repair putty under the surface of the spray-on bed liner on top of the truck bed wall. Further search of this area revealed that the front wall contained 10.4 kilograms, or almost 23 pounds, of cocaine.
ORTEGA was placed under arrest and admitted that he had been in Great Falls for the past three days. He further stated that he needed to telephonically contact an individual in Colorado named "Claudio" to tell him what had happened. ORTEGA stated he had known "Claudio" for six months, but could not provide a full name. ORTEGA then stated that an individual named "Jorge" gave him the address in Canada that he was supposed to travel to once in Canada. He said that after he was refused entry, an unknown individual named "Wetto" was sent down from Canada by an individual in Canada known as "Pancho," to help him gain admittance to Canada. Wetto arrived in Great Falls on July 26, 2011, and stayed with ORTEGA at the motel. He said that when he went to the first auto parts store, with Wetto, they drove separate vehicles. According to ORTEGA, Wetto was aware of a "hidden compartment" in ORTEGA's vehicle and that the materials purchased were purchased by Wetto and were for the compartment. ORTEGA later amended this statement and advised that he was the one who actually purchased the auto products. ORTEGA insisted that it wasn't until Wetto indicated that the supplies were for a hidden compartment that he realized the true purpose of the trip to Canada. He insisted that he did not know about the hidden compartment and did not know what was inside the compartment until shortly before he was stopped by law enforcement.
Because there is no parole in the federal system, the "truth in sentencing" guidelines mandate that ORTEGA will likely serve all of the time imposed by the court. In the federal system, ORTEGA does have the opportunity to earn a sentence reduction for "good behavior." However, this reduction will not exceed 15% of the overall sentence.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration.