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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANGELA DODGE

April 28, 2011

PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER
(713) 567-9388

LEADER OF DRUG TRAFFICKING TRANSPORT CELL SENTENCED TO 30-YEAR PRISON TERM

(McALLEN, Texas) – Trafficking a ton of marijuana earns a Starr County resident a 30-year federal prison term, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Jerry Robinette announced today.

Damian Montalvo, 36, of La Casita, Texas, in Starr County, was sentenced yesterday afternoon to 360 months in federal prison without parole for possessing with intent to distribute approximately 1,973 kilograms of marijuana in June 2005. Montalvo was convicted of the federal drug trafficking offense in December 2010 by a jury’s verdict following a two-day trial. 

“Yesterday’s lengthy sentence sends out a clear message to drug traffickers who operate within this district – the bigger the crime, the longer the time,” said U.S. Attorney Moreno. “Organization leaders cannot insulate themselves by hiding behind lesser participants, and sentences will reflect the true responsibility for the their crime.”

During trial, Border Patrol (BP) agents and several of Montalvo’s co-defendants testified to the events of June 5, 2006, that led to the seizure of 1,973 kilograms of marijuana and ultimately to the charges against Montalvo. The jury learned Montalvo was the ring leader responsible for coordinating the transport and delivery of shipments of marijuana and cocaine from stash houses along the Rio Grande River to other stash houses in McAllen and Edinburg, Texas. A convicted co-defendant testified that prior to the delivery of a shipment of cocaine and marijuana being sent from Mexico to a stash house in La Casita, Texas, on June 5, 2006, he had delivered to Montalvo the phones to be used by the ‘scouts’ involved with escorting and protecting the load of contraband to communicate with one another. Upon arrival of the load at the stash house, others associated with or who worked for Montalvo, including Montalvo’s brother-in-law, testified about unloading the contraband at the house. Through testimony, the jury heard that on June 5, 2006, a BP agent followed a vehicle driven by Gilbert Lopez from the Rio Grande River to the stash house in La Casita. Eddie Diaz, who was awaiting to unload the shipment with Daniel Lopez, was arrested at that time. Both Gilbert Lopez and Daniel Lopez (no relation) alluded arrest that day. Federal agents subsequently seized 153 bundles of marijuana and 209 bricks of cocaine from the stash house and 43 bundles of marijuana and 213 bricks of cocaine from the truck Gilbert Lopez was driving. In total, 1,973 kilograms of marijuana and 468 kilograms of cocaine were seized that day by federal authorities. Through further investigation, HIS agents identified and arrested Gilbert Lopez and Daniel Lopez in August 2006. Jose Angel Diaz, the owner of the stash house, as well as Montalvo and Amado Molina Jr., were also identified as members of the transportation cell. Jose Angel Diaz was arrested by federal authorities in December 2006. Molina and Montalvo were respectively arrested in November 2009 and April 2010.  

Through agents, the jury heard corroborating testimony about telephone records which connected Montalvo to those at the Las Casitas residence and the load of marijuana. 

The jury also heard testimony from one of Montalvo’s family members that she “held” money for Montalvo which he had obtained through narcotics trafficking activities. They also heard that Montalvo had originally told agents he was merely a “scout” for drug loads and denied any involvement with the events of June 5, 2006. At trial, Montalvo testified in his own defense in an attempt to convince the jury he had not been involved in the drug trafficking on June 5th and furthermore that the actual ring-leader of the group was Molina not himself.  
 
“The sentencing of Damian Montalvo sends a strong message to drug trafficking organizations that HSI along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate the brazen disregard for U.S. law,” said Robinette. “HSI will continue to aggressively investigate those who engage in this dangerous criminal activity and stop them before they pump untold amounts of poison into our communities.“

While the jury acquitted Montalvo of five of six of the counts alleged in the indictment returned in April 2010, they found him guilty of possession with intent to distribute the 1,973 kilograms of marijuana seized on June 5, 2006, at the Las Casitas residence. 

At yesterday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Randy Crane considered the overall scope of the narcotics operation during the six-month period beginning January 2006 through June 5, 2006, as well as Montalvo’s leadership role in deciding upon the 30-year prison term he handed down yesterday. In addition, the court has ordered Montalvo to serve a 10-year-term of supervised release upon completion of his sentence. In custody since his April 22, 2010, arrest, Montalvo will remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future where he will serve out his prison sentence.

Others charged and convicted after pleading guilty for their involvement in the illicit drug enterprise lead by Montalvo included Molina, who admitted to working with Montalvo to coordinate the contraband loads and having delivered the phones to Montalvo on June 5. Molina was sentenced on Monday, April 25, 2011, to 120 months in prison for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana. Jose Angel Diaz, 56, of Rio Grande City, Texas, the owner of the Las Casitas stash house, was sentenced to 210 months on May 8, 2008, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute both marijuana and cocaine. Daniel Lopez, 43, of Garciasville, Texas, and Eddie Diaz - Jose Angel’s brother, 50, of Rio Grande City, who were involved with unloading contraband at the stash house, were sentenced to 56 and 60 months, respectively, for their conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute both marijuana and cocaine convictions. Eddie Diaz was sentenced on Feb. 8, 2011, and Daniel Lopez was sentenced on Feb. 10, 2011. Gilbert Lopez, 52, of Rio Grande City, who was responsible for transporting the contraband from the river to the Las Casitas stash house and the last indicted co-defendant, pleaded guilty in March 2007 to the conspiracy charge and is scheduled to be sentenced May 9, 2011.    

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by HSI in conjunction with U.S. Border Patrol. The Falcon Dam office of HSI was instrumental in the investigative effort. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anibal J. Alaniz and Juan F. Alanis prosecuted the case.   

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