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Oct. 22, 2010

HOUSTON SALVAGE YARD OWNER CONVICTED OF HEROIN TRAFFICKING CHARGES

(BROWNSVILLE, Texas) - A federal jury has convicted a Houston salvage yard owner of importation and distribution of more than 17 kilograms of heroin, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.  The verdicts were returned late this afternoon in open court before United States District Judge Hilda Tagle.

Joel Linares-Soberanis, a 36 year-old Guatemalan who owns Nationwide Import Car Salvage Inc. in Houston, was found guilty of conspiracy to import 17.8 kilograms of heroin into the United States from Mexico and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute the heroin. He now faces no less than 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment as well as a $4 million fine on each count at sentencing.  Judge Tagle has set sentencing for Jan. 18, 2011.

Testimony during the four-day trial showed that the heroin was discovered on Nov. 6, 2009, by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents when a co-conspirator entered the United States through a Brownsville, Texas, Port of Entry. The conspirators used the hollow portion of the drive shafts on Dodge pick-ups to conceal the heroin. Through further investigation, agents learned that Linares-Sobernais was the person to whom the drugs were to be delivered and the person who was to pay for the transporting of the drugs from Mexico to Houston. 

As federal agents conducted further investigation into the identity of the salvage yard owner, they found the salvage yard and the salvage yard owner to be under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for possible firearms violations. Crossing records of the vehicle’s lien holder led to the discovery of Fernando Argenis Huezo, a co-conspirator involved in the trafficking.  A search warrant was conducted at the salvage yard and at the homes of the co-conspirators on March 11, 2010, in Houston. Linares-Sobernais and Huezo were arrested on March 11, 2010. 

On Oct. 18, 2010, before trial began, Linares-Sobernais pleaded guilty a third count alleged in the indictment - being an alien in possession of a firearm. Huezo pleaded guilty on June 3, 2010, to conspiracy to import heroin and making a false statement on a firearms record, while the driver of the vehicle in which the heroin was found, Felix Dalas Ortega, pleaded guilty on Jan. 13, 2010, to possession with intent to distribute heroin. Testimony during trial established that Linares-Sobernais hired, directed and in some instances paid his co-conspirators to import and possess with intent to distribute drugs.  

The heroin intercepted at the bridge on Nov. 6, 2010, had an estimated street value of more than $8 million according to the testimony of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. 

Linares-Sobernais has been in custody since his arrest where he will remain until his sentencing date. Co-defendants Huezo and Ortega will be sentenced thereafter and face the same range of punishment as Linares-Sobernais.

The case was investigated by the Immigration and Custom Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations, ATF and CBP.  The case was prosecuted by Attorney Bill Hagen and Megan Paulson. 

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