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Contraband
04/11/2011

1,500-pound marijuana seizure leads to federal prison for 7 men

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Seven men have been sentenced in Charlotte for drug trafficking-related offenses, following an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, with the assistance of the Union County Sheriff's Office.

Anthony Lee Monroe, 44, of Charlotte, pleaded guilty on Sept. 10, 2009, and was sentenced on Monday to 60 months in prison. Asdrubal Rodriguez Correa, 30, of Mexico, was convicted at trial on Sept. 29, 2009 and was sentenced on June 5, 2010 to 248 months in prison. Gaspar Benevides, 27, of Mexico, pleaded guilty on July 6, 2009, and was sentenced on June 5, 2010, to 60 months in prison. Hector Javier Benavides, 35, of Mexico, pleaded guilty on Sept. 10, 2009, and was sentenced on June 5, 2010, to 38 months in prison. Raul Rubio, 29, of Mexico, pleaded guilty on June 12, 2009, and was sentenced on June 5, 2010 to 37 months in prison. Luciano Castro Manzanarez 30, of Mexico, pleaded guilty on Aug. 19, 2009, and was sentenced on June 5, 2010 to 30 months in prison. Jose Mora Bayona, 26, of Mexico, pleaded guilty on June 10, 2009, and was sentenced on June 5, 2010 to 27 months in prison.

Correa, Benevides, Rubio, Manzanarez, Benavides, and Bayona are undocumented aliens and will be deported to Mexico upon completion of their sentence.

According to official court documents and evidence presented at Correa's trial, on July 30, 2008, the men received 1,500 pounds of marijuana encased in large cement pillars. The marijuana was delivered from Mexico through Texas and into Union County, and was intended for re-distribution.

Based on trial evidence, law enforcement tracked the delivery of the cement pillars containing the marijuana to a warehouse and then to a residence in Indian Trail, N.C.

According to information presented at trial, two of the men tried unsuccessfully to break the pillars with hammers. Law enforcement arrested them as they attempted to leave the house to purchase additional tools to break up the concrete.

Officers arrested Correa inside the residence, where they also seized a firearm, a small marijuana-grow operation and digital scales used to weigh marijuana. The officers also found inside the residence various statues and other items that paid homage to Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte, who have been adopted by drug traffickers as folk "patron saints."

The prosecution for the government was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven R. Kaufman of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Charlotte.