August 28, 2009
LAREDO JURY CONVICTS LAREDOAN IN TWO TON MARIJUANA CASE
(LAREDO, Texas) – Sergio Garza-Castañeda, 39, of Laredo, Texas, was found guilty yesterday by a jury’s verdict of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.
The jury returned its verdicts yesterday afternoon after hearing testimony from a number of witnesses including Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents about the events beginning May 18, 2009, and culminating in the arrest of Garza on May 19, 2009 .
Evidence presented told the jury about the seizure of 1,874 kilograms of marijuana concealed among a legitimate load of pipe fittings on a tractor trailer seized earlier in the day on May 18, 2009, at the World Trade Bridge as the tractor trailer entered the United States from Mexico. The trailer, bound for a warehouse located at 408 NAFTA Boulevard in Laredo, was ultimately delivered to the site while under supervision of investigating ICE agents that evening.
During the early morning hours of May 19th, Garza arrived at the warehouse led by a scout vehicle. ICE special agents, along with Webb County Sheriff’s deputies (WCSO) and Laredo Police Department officers, watched as Garza arrived at the warehouse, hooked the marijuana-laden trailer to Garza’s tractor and drove east and south on Loop 20 and then east on Highway 59. WCSO deputies stopped Garza several miles east of Laredo on Highway 59.
Garza was alone in the tractor without a manifest or a bill of lading. Agents testified Garza told them he had been hired by an individual whose last name he did not know to use a tractor he did not own to transport the trailer to a warehouse off of Highway 59 and was to be paid $500 and believed there was a “50/50" chance the trailer had narcotics in it. At trial, Garza disclaimed the statements and denied he knew of any narcotics in the trailer. However, Garza did admit he had been in close radio communication with the occupants of the scout vehicle prior to arrival at the warehouse where he picked up the marijuana-laden trailer. On cross examination, Garza was forced to admit that he had purposely not entered and inspected the contents of the trailer – which included more than 37,000 pounds of pipe fittings and related legitimate cargo – before transporting it, that he expected to travel on unimproved roads off of Highway 59 to its final destination on Hwy 59, and that he was being paid an inordinately high amount of money to transport the trailer from one area of Laredo to another.
The jury also heard evidence that Garza had been convicted in 2004 of misprision of felony stemming from the discovery in September 2003 of more than 800 pounds of cocaine hidden in a trailer at his ranch off of Highway 59, which he conceded on cross-examination is where he still resides.
At sentencing, which is scheduled for November 2009, Garza faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment, a fine of up to $4 million and a five-year-term of supervised release.
The case was investigated by CBP officers and ICE special agents, with additional assistance at trial from the Drug Enforcement Administration and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Frank T. Pimentel.
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