Feb. 13, 2009
DRIVER FOUND GUILTY FOR TRANSPORTING COCAINE INTO U.S.
(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) – A federal jury has convicted Ismael Ortiz, 43, a United States citizen residing in Matamoros, Mexico, of possession with intent to distribute more than 16 kilograms of cocaine, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.
The verdict was returned on Friday, Feb. 13, 2009, after approximately nine hours of deliberation. United States District Court Judge Hilda Tagle, who presided over the trial, has set sentencing for May 12, 2009. Ortiz faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years up to life imprisonment and a $4 million fine.
Ortiz and his passenger, Francisco Arechiga-Meraz, 67, of Matamoros, Mexico, were charged in a two-count indictment with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Arechiga-Meraz entered a guilty plea to the possession with intent to distribute cocaine charge during the course of Ortiz’s trial and faces the same punishment range as his co-defendant, Ortiz. The jury found Ortiz not guilty of the conspiracy charge.
During the two-day trial, evidence proved that Ortiz, accompanied by Arechiga-Meraz, drove a 2004 Nissan Sentra up to an inspection lane at the Los Tomates Port of Entry at approximately 11:00 a.m. on Nov. 25, 2008. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors, who noticed there was a single key on the ignition key chain and that the vehicle was unusually clean and uncluttered, referred the Sentra to secondary inspection. During secondary inspection, an x-ray examination revealed an anomaly under the dash board -- two hidden compartments lined with lead tape. The compartments were discovered to contain 16 bricks of cocaine wrapped in grease and carbon paper. Through further investigation conducted by special agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it was learned that Arechiga-Meraz had been paid $400 to transport the vehicle into the United States, $200 of which Ortiz was to receive. Both men were arrested and the cocaine seized.
Arechiga-Meraz was called as a witness for the defense during the trial and denied he or Ortiz knew about the drugs in the vehicle. Both men had made two similar trips in the same vehicle through the same checkpoint station on Nov. 13 and Nov. 21.
Ortiz and Arechiaga-Meraz have been remanded into the custody of the United States Marshals pending sentencing.
This case was investigated by ICE with the assistance of CBP inspectors and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Wynne and Carrie Wirsing.
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