May 27, 2009
FIVE MEMBERS OF DRUG TRAFFICKING/MONEY LAUNDERING ORGANIZATION WHICH USED COMMERCIAL BUSES TO HIDE CONTRABAND SENTENCED TO PRISON
(HOUSTON) – Five members of a drug trafficking organization - all Mexican nationals - responsible for transporting and distributing thousands of kilograms of cocaine in the Houston area and transporting millions in drug money to Mexico in commercial buses were sentenced to prison today, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.
Elisa Idalia Castillo, 53, and Martin Ovalle-Martinez, 46, both Mexican nationals residing in Houston, were convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering by a jury’s verdict in March 2009. Today, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake sentenced Castillo to the maximum 20 years imprisonment for the money laundering conspiracy and life imprisonment for the drug conspiracy conviction to be served concurrently. Ovalle, who was also convicted of possessing with intent to distribute cocaine, was also sentenced to the maximum 20 years imprisonment for the money laundering conviction and 300 months in federal prison without parole for the two drug offenses of conviction to be served concurrently.
Pleadings filed in the case and testimony at the trial of Castillo and Ovalle proved Castillo, Ovalle and others charged in the case worked for an organization based in Monterrey, Mexico, responsible for the transportation and distribution of cocaine to Houston and the return of the proceeds to Monterrey. Between Jan. 1, 2006, and March 20, 2008, approximately $2.2 million and more than 1000 kilograms of cocaine were seized from tour buses operating in Texas and Mexico.
The organization used Mexican tour buses to transport cocaine to Houston and to transport cocaine proceeds to Monterrey. The cocaine/money would be hidden in the buses, usually in a hidden compartment created in the gas tank. Upon the morning arrival of the buses in Houston, the few legitimate passengers would be offloaded at a depot on the 500 block of Wayside in Houston. The buses then traveled to a warehouse to offload the cocaine which was distributed to various distributors throughout the day. Proceeds of the cocaine sales were delivered to the warehouse or picked up nearby. By that evening, the collected proceeds would be loaded into the hidden compartment in the bus. The bus would then drive back to the depot where the few legitimate passengers would be loaded before departing for Monterrey.
Castillo was in charge of the bus depot in Houston and all the buses seized were leased and insured by her. Ovalle was one of the driver's of the buses that contained cocaine and cocaine proceeds, including the seizure of approximately 240 kilograms of cocaine on May 23, 2006, at the Laredo, Texas, Port of Entry.
Castillo and Ovalle have been in federal custody without bond since their arrests in May 2008 and will remain in custody to serve their prison terms.
Three other defendants charged for their involvement in the organization, Israel Torres, 35, and David Pacheco, 35, both Mexican nationals residing in Houston, and Alberto Abel Martinez,51, a Mexican national residing in Rosenberg, Texas, all of whom pleaded guilty in advance of trial to the drug conspiracy charge, were also sentenced today. Torres, Pacheco and Martinez were warehouse workers involved in the offloading of large amounts of cocaine from the buses and loading large amounts of currency onto them. They also distributed the cocaine and collected drug proceeds for shipment back to Mexico. Judge Lake sentenced Torres to 112 months in federal prison without parole. Pacheco was sentenced to a 67-month prison term while Martinez was sentenced to 36 months in prison.
All five defendants were also ordered to serve a five-year term of supervised release upon release from prison. All have been and will remain in federal custody. All five defendants are also subject to revocation of any legal status they may have had in the U.S. at the time of their conviction and are subject to deportation following their release from prison.
Arrest warrants remain outstanding for three others charged in this case and presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law. They are Jorge Reynosa-Alejandro, 34, last known to reside in Rosenberg, Texas; Marco Martinez-Cardenas, 38, last known to reside in Monterrey, Mexico; and Abel Gonzales-Jaramillo, 41, last known to reside in Monterrey, Mexico. Anyone having information regarding the whereabouts of these three men are asked to contact their local Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by special agents of the DEA, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division and Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as by officers of the Pasadena Drug Task Force. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Peter Mason and Stuart A. Burns.
# # #