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Oct. 23, 2009


(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) - After a four-day trial, a federal jury has convicted Maria Luisa De La Garza, 47, of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute more than 60 kilograms of marijuana, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. The jury returned its verdict late yesterday.

Through testimony and the presentation of physical evidence during the trial, which began on Monday, Oct. 20, the United States proved that on July 28, 2009, De La Garza attempted to enter into the United States driving a vehicle containing more than 60 kilograms of marijuana concealed in metal half-moon containers bolted to the rims of the tires of the vehicle. De La Garza was the driver and sole occupant of a gold Ford F-150 arriving at the Gateway Bridge Port of Entry in Brownsville. Because De La Garza’s vehicle and last name matched the description and information received via a Crime Stoppers tip as a person that would be attempting to import narcotics into the United States, she and her vehicle were referred for secondary inspection. 

During the search of the vehicle, agents found 61.90 kilograms of marijuana hidden within the vehicles’ tires. In addition, agents seized a pendant and a necklace with a depiction of the santisima muerte, the patron saint of drug dealers. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents testified drug smugglers frequently pray to and carry in their possession, the santisima muerte, which smugglers mistakenly believe gives them power to avoid detection by law enforcement. At the time of her arrest, De La Garza told agents she was doing a “favor” for a friend when she picked up the F-150 to take to Houston and that she believed she was transporting cocaine. Trial testimony also included that De la Garza’s other vehicle, a PT Cruiser driven by her relative, was stopped one month before in Louisiana with $148,000 cash in a hidden compartment. 

United States District Judge Hilda G. Tagle, who presided over the trial, has sent De La Garza’s sentencing for Jan. 18, 2010. She faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $1 million. De La Garza was ordered remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending sentencing.

The case was investigated by Customs and Border Protection and ICE and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Oscar Ponce.


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