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Sept. 21, 2010

SENDING PARCELS OF MARIJUANA THROUGH U.S. MAIL RESULTS IN PRISON TERMS FOR THREE

(MCALLEN, Texas) – Three McAllen residents convicted of distributing marijuana via the U.S. Mail have been sentenced to prison, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

Chief United States District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa handed down the prison terms today for Jose Adan Lopez, 22, Ernesto Damian Caballero, 25, and Heriberto Emmanuel Vera, 34. Lopez was sentenced to 60 months imprisonment. Caballero was sentenced to 71 months in prison, while Vera received 70 months. While the court further imposed a four-year-term of supervised release, all three defendants are aliens without lawful status in the United States and are subject to deportation upon their release from prison. 

All three defendants pleaded guilty Aug. 4, 2009, admitting membership in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute at least 510  kilograms of marijuana via the United States Postal System between March 2008 to May 2009. The marijuana was packaged in parcels primarily dropped off at the Progresso, Texas, post office. Lopez packaged and mailed the parcels. Caballero purchased the packaging supplies and Vera guarded the marijuana at a stash house.

These three men were originally arrested on May 6, 2009, as a result of a continuous drug interdiction program in McAllen, Texas. Inspectors of the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) had discovered similarly wrapped parcels containing marijuana in the U.S. Mail and initiated an investigation to identify members of the group believed to be involved with mailing the parcels. The parcels, themselves, were similarly packaged. The marijuana, wrapped in cellophane, was surrounded by dried chili peppers as a masking agent. Later, the parcels would also contain fiberglass insulation, along with the chili peppers, in a further attempt to mask the odor of marijuana.

Through physical and video surveillance and the execution of search warrants, postal inspectors determined that since March 2008, the group was responsible for mailing more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana primarily from the Progresso, Texas, post office. The packages were destined for various addresses throughout the United States from the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana and Ohio) to the South (North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia).

This case represents the increasing efforts by U.S. Postal Inspectors to protect the U.S. Mail from criminal misuse in South Texas. The USPIS is focusing on drug traffickers that attempt to use the mail to distribute illegal narcotics out of the Rio Grande Valley. Along with agents from the Hidalgo County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force and the Department of Public Safety narcotics unit, postal inspectors are aggressively investigating to identify and arrest persons engaged in the mailing of narcotics.

Anyone having information about persons responsible for mailing narcotics is encouraged to contact the local Postal Inspector's office at 956/971-1721. The USPIS will pay up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals who use the U.S. Mail to distribute narcotics.

The investigation leading to these charges was conducted by the USPIS. Assistant United States Attorneys Juan F. Alanis and Patricia Rigney prosecuted the case.

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