Nov. 18, 2009
LAREDOAN SENTENCED TO PRISON AND FINED FOR MARIJUANA TRAFFICKING CONVICTIONS
(LAREDO, Texas) – Sergio Garza-Castañeda has been sentenced to prison for conspiring to and possessing with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.
Garza-Castañeda, 39, of Laredo, Texas, was found guilty in August 2009 following a jury trial of the drug trafficking offenses. Today, United States District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Garza-Castañeda to 168 months in federal prison without parole, imposed a $2,000 fine and ordered him to perform 150 hours of community service during the first three years of a five-year-term of supervised release. The supervised release begins upon completion of the prison term.
During trial, the jury heard from a number of witnesses including Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents involved in the investigation of the events beginning May 18, 2009, and culminating in the arrest of Garza-Castañeda on May 19, 2009.
The jury heard 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 19, Garza-Castañeda 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-Castañeda hooked the marijuana-laden trailer to his tractor and drove east then south on Loop 20 and then east on Highway 59. WCSO deputies stopped Garza-Castañeda several miles east of Laredo on Highway 59.
Garza-Castañeda was alone in the tractor without a manifest or a bill of lading. Agents testified Garza-Castañeda 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. He was to be paid $500 and believed there was a “50/50" chance the trailer had narcotics in it. At trial, Garza-Castañeda disclaimed the statements and denied he knew of any narcotics in the trailer. However, he 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-Castañeda admitted 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.
Garza-Castañeda was previously 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.
Garza-Castañeda has been in federal custody since his arrest and will remain in federal custody pending his transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future where he will serve his sentence.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by CBP officers, ICE special agents and WCSO deputies with additional assistance at trial from the Drug Enforcement Administration. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Frank T. Pimentel.
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