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August 4, 2009


(McALLEN, Texas) – In two separate cases, seven residents of McAllen and Mission, Texas, have been convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.

McAllen residents Jose Adan Lopez, 20, Ernesto Damian Caballero, 23, and Heriberto Emmanuel Vera, 32, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana by mailing packages containing dried chili peppers as a masking agent, while in a separate case Leopoldo Rodriguez, 41, Juan Carlos Hernandez, 21, Victor Hugo Mares, 25, and Margarito Gallardo, 45, all residents of Mission, Texas, pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana by mailing packages containing.

Today in open court before U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, Lopez, Caballero and Vera admitted they were members of a conspiracy that mailed at least 510 kilograms of marijuana in parcels that were primarily dropped off at the Progresso, Texas, Post Office from March 2008 to May 2009. Lopez packaged and mailed the parcels, while Caballero purchased the packaging supplies and Lopez guarded the marijuana at a stash house. The charges against these men was initiated in March 2008 when United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) inspectors discovered similarly wrapped parcels containing marijuana in the U.S. Mail. The investigation identified Lopez, Caballero and Vera as involved with mailing the parcels. The parcels, themselves, were similarly packaged. The marijuana, wrapped in cellophane, was surrounded by dried chili peppers as a masking agent. Later, the parcels would also contain fiberglass insulation, along with the chili peppers in a further attempt to mask the odor of marijuana. Lopez, Caballero and Vela were identified as responsible for these packages.

Yesterday, in a second case, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Mares and Gallardo admitted to their roles in mailing parcels containing marijuana through the U.S. Postal system. Evidence proved that Rodriguez, Hernandez and Mares mailed parcels on a continual basis for at least one year. The parcels, themselves, were similarly packaged and contained raw beans, sealed in the cap of a can of spray foam to create a rattling sound. Additionally, the packages were found to contain expandable foam and marijuana wrapped in thick plastic. Later, the packaging changed to contain mustard, salt and pepper placed in the cellophane as masking agents around the marijuana. Gallardo not only mailed parcels, but also cashed money orders that were sent via the postal system as payments for the marijuana.

In this second case, inspectors seized 131 parcels with an approximately net weight of 772.46 kilograms connected to this group in McAllen, Texas. Another 61 parcels were marked and referred for investigation at their final destination. These parcels contained an approximate net weight of 438.26 kilograms of marijuana. Another 77 parcels with an estimated gross weight of 447.11 kilograms were identified as related parcels based on having similar packaging as those seized. In all, inspectors were able to connect approximately 1657 kilograms of marijuana to this group.  

Through physical and video surveillance and the execution of search warrants, postal inspectors determined that both of these groups were responsible for mailing more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana from various post offices throughout the Rio Grande Valley. The packages were destined for various addresses throughout the United States

Lopez, Caballero and Vera were all originally arrested on May 6, 2009, and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos the following day. None of them made bond and remained in custody pending final sentencing. Rodriguez, Hernandez, Mares and Gallardo have been in custody since May 4 or 5, 2009, and were remanded to custody pending final sentencing.

Sentencing for Lopez, Caballero and Vera is scheduled for Nov. 9, 2009 before Judge Hinojosa at which time they face a possible prison sentence of five to 40 years in federal prison and a potential fine up to $2 million. Rodriguez, Hernandez, Mares and Gallardo will be sentenced on Nov. 4, 2009, and face a prison term of 10 years to life and a potential fine of up to $4 million. 

These cases represent the increasing efforts by U.S. Postal Inspectors to protect the U.S. Mail from criminal misuse in South Texas. The USPIS is focusing on drug traffickers that attempt to use the mail to distribute illegal narcotics out of the Rio Grande Valley. Along with agents from the Hidalgo County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force and the Department of Public Safety narcotics unit, postal inspectors are aggressively investigating to identify and arrest persons engaged in the mailing of narcotics.

Anyone having information about persons responsible for mailing narcotics is encouraged to contact the local Postal Inspector's office at (956) 971-1721. USPIS will pay up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals who use the U.S. Mail to distribute narcotics.

The case is being investigated by USPIS. Prosecution will be handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Juan F. Alanis and Patricia Rigney.




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