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Press Release

Two Judges, Three Trials, Four Guilty

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas

LAREDO, Texas – After a busy week in Laredo federal court, a total of four people residing in varying Texas communities have been found guilty as charged, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. A mother and daughter and another man were convicted in cocaine conspiracies before U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo, while a truck driver was convicted of alien smuggling before U.S. District Judge Diana Saldana.

Feather J. Saldana, 65, and her daughter Shawna P. Johnson, 41, both of Gatesville, were convicted late yesterday after a day and a half trial. According to witnesses, the women drove to a Laredo port of entry on Dec. 5, 2014, in Johnson’s vehicle which was loaded with 38 kilograms of cocaine in the gas tank and center console areas. Saldana and Johnson initially denied any involvement in the importation of cocaine, continued to do so at trial and further denied any involvement in a known drug smuggling organization. However, several witnesses testified otherwise, claiming that Johnson had made several successful narcotics crossings in the past and that Saldana was being trained for an upcoming solo crossing.

The jury deliberated for approximately an hour before finding the mother and daughter guilty of conspiring to import and importing cocaine as charged.

In a separate trial that commenced immediately prior, a jury also found Enrique Fernando Salazar-Valencia, 51, guilty of conspiring to import cocaine. During that two-day trial, the jury heard that

a commercial bus registered to Salazar-Valencia, of Austin, attempted to enter a Laredo port of entry on Sept. 7, 2015. The bus was found to contain 51 kilograms of cocaine in a hidden compartment at the back of the bus. Salazar-Valencia also denied any involvement in the importation of cocaine. However, witnesses at trial testified that he was in fact a recruiter for a drug smuggling organization and was also responsible for the organization’s use of commercial buses in narcotics smuggling.

The jury deliberated for two hours before convicting him.

All of these defendants face a face a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison. They all have been and will remain in custody pending their sentencing hearings.

Both cases were the result of the investigative efforts of Homeland Security Investigations with the assistance of Customs and Border Protection. Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Christopher A. dos Santos and Special AUSA Lisa Ezra prosecuted both of these cases.

In another Laredo courtroom, a federal jury convicted Jorge Miguel Pedro-Fernandez, 26, of Houston, on three counts related to alien smuggling. Pedro-Fernandez attempted to smuggle aliens concealed in his tractor past the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 35 on Nov. 24, 2015. At that time, a Border Patrol canine alerted to the defendant’s tractor. A subsequent search uncovered six undocumented aliens hiding in the cab of the tractor. The jury heard that Pedro-Fernandez had initially given a statement admitting he had agreed to smuggle the aliens past the checkpoint. 

At trial, the jury also heard from two of the illegal aliens that Pedro-Fernandez attempted to drive them past the checkpoint. One them also noted that the defendant had told him where to hide. 

However, Pedro-Fernandez testified and claimed the aliens had snuck on his tractor without his knowledge. He also denied ever confessing that he knowingly transported aliens. Upon cross-examination, the government demonstrated numerous inconsistencies in the defendant’s story.

After approximately two hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Pedro-Fernandez of conspiracy to smuggle aliens and two counts of smuggling aliens.

U.S. District Judge Diana Saldana will set sentencing at a later date, at which time the defendant faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He was taken into custody immediately after the verdict where he will remain pending that hearing.

Homeland Security Investigations also investigated this case along with Border Patrol. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alfredo De La Rosa and Jorge Vela are prosecuting.

Updated February 12, 2016

Topic
Human Trafficking