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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 2, 2015

Marijuana Dealer Convicted In Manhattan Federal Court Of Two 1996 Murders

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JOSE ISMAEL VENTURA was found guilty yesterday of murder in connection with a marijuana distribution conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, and murder-for-hire.  The verdict came following a 13-day jury trial in Manhattan federal court before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl.

According to the Indictment and the evidence at trial:

From the 1980s through the mid-1990s, JOSE ISMAEL VENTURA owned and operated a marijuana distribution business in the vicinity of 207th Street and Sherman Avenue in northern Manhattan.  In the fall of 1995, VENTURA placed his nephew, Eugene Garrido, in charge of the day-to-day operations of the marijuana business while VENTURA’s son, Kevin Ventura, who had previously managed the business, was on home detention for a pending murder charge.  In the spring of 1996, Kevin Ventura’s murder charge was dismissed by state authorities and VENTURA told his nephew Eugene Garrido that his services were no longer needed.  Garrido refused to give up his management role, and instead began efforts to take over the entire marijuana business from VENTURA.  Because of this dispute over VENTURA’s marijuana business, in the summer of 1996, VENTURA ordered the murder of Garrido.  On VENTURA’s order, his son Kevin Ventura hired two brothers to kill Garrido in exchange for $10,000, derived from the VENTURA marijuana business.  On August 19, 1996, one of the two brothers shot and killed Garrido in the lobby of his apartment building in northern Manhattan.  A bystander, Carlos Penzo, who attempted to stop the fleeing shooter, was also shot and died a week later of his injuries.

Kevin Ventura was convicted of these murders, as well as one additional murder, following a jury trial in Manhattan federal court in December 2013.

The two brothers who were hired to commit the Garrido murder, Jorge Lafontaine and Jose Lafontaine, have both been charged federally and have entered pleas of guilty to their roles in the Garrido and Penzo murders.  They have not yet been sentenced.

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JOSE ISMAEL VENTURA, 62, of Manhattan, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.  The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.  A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for October 2, 2015, at 3:00 p.m. before Judge Koeltl.

Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Homeland Security Investigations Division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the New York City Police Department.

This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Margaret Garnett and Micah W.J. Smith are in charge of the prosecution.

Press Release Number: 
15-169
Updated July 2, 2015