Jury Convicts Drug Traffickers in Possession of More than 6,000 Pounds of Marijuana
|June 29, 2011|
McALLEN, Texas – A federal jury has convicted two Mexican nationals of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.
Mexican nationals, Jesus Gonzalez Hinojosa, 31, and Jose Vielma Garcia, 32, were found guilty on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, by a McAllen jury of both offenses after approximately 30 minutes of deliberation and following a two-day trial. U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, who presided over the trial, accepted the jury’s verdicts and has set Gonzalez and Vielma for sentencing on Sept. 6, 2011.
During the trial, the United States presented evidence that Gonzalez and Vielma were arrested by U.S. Border Patrol (BP) agents following a short chase during the early evening hours of Jan. 25, 2011, as they fled from a ranch in El Sauz, Texas, and approximately 2,782 kilograms of marijuana valued at more than $4.8 million. U.S. Border Patrol agents testified that surveillance was established around the ranch which was a suspected “stash” location for marijuana. Agents saw Vielma and Gonzalez, who were passengers in a pick-up truck, entering the ranch. Gonazles and Vielma were dropped off near four piles of bundled marijuana, then left the ranch. Vielma and Gonzalez then walked toward the bundles but fled on foot whhen BP agents approached and identified themselves. After a short chase, Gonzalez and Vielma were apprehended and the contraband seized.
At the time of their apprehension, both defendants claimed to be undocumented aliens bound for Houston. However, the jury heard that at the time both defendants were seen by BP agents, they were walking toward the border not away from it and both defendants had substantial familial ties to the area and lived in well furnished homes about six miles from the ranch. Additionally, both men had a prior record for possessing marijuana and importing marijuana.
Gonzalez, of Roma, Texas, faces a minimum of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum of life in prison, along with a potential fine up to $10 million. Vielma, also a resident of Roma, Texas, faces no less than 20 years and up to a life sentence imprisonment on each of the two counts of conviction due to a prior federal drug conviction, along with a potential fine up to $20 million. Each will also have to serve a term of supervised release, for Gonzalez, that term is at least five years and for Vielma, that term is at least 10 years.
Gonzalez and Vielma have been in federal custody without bond since their January 2011 arrest and will remain in custody pending sentencing. Neither have status to be present in the United States.
The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations in conjunction with the United States Border Patrol. Assistant United States Attorneys Cory J. H. Crenshaw and James Sturgis are prosecuting the case.