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2 leaders of former southeast Texas drug trafficking organization sentenced to life, 30 years in federal prison

CORPUS CHRISTI — Two leaders in a southeast Texas drug trafficking organization were sentenced Friday to 30 years and life in federal prison.

These lengthy prison sentences resulted from a multi-agency Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation into a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. These sentences were announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The OCDETF investigation was conducted in Corpus Christi, and was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). This investigation also included the following agencies: the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Texas Department of Public Safety; Brooks County Sheriff's Office; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol; and the U.S. Marshals Service.

On Feb. 22, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ordered Roberto Garza, 42, identified as a leader in the conspiracy, to serve the rest of his life in prison. Ramon Zamora, 52, also considered a leader, was also sentenced the same day to 30 years in federal prison. Garza and Zamora were the latest of nine so far to be sentenced for this drug trafficking conspiracy.

On Feb, 6, Jesus Gregorio Lopez aka Goyo, 63, was sentenced to 292 months, which included forfeiture to the United States his ranch property. Last month, Garcia was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. De la Garza, Salazar, Figueroa, Munoz and Lopez received respective sentences of 50, 30, 15, eight and 84 months in federal prison. The three remaining defendants are scheduled for sentencing next month: Garza, Tamez and Marroquin.

The following south Texas residents entered their guilty pleas before Judge Gonzales Ramos Sept. 6: Jesus Marroquin, 50, and Flavio Tamez, 47, both of Rio Grande City; Adrian De la Garza, 41, of Sullivan City; Rene Salazar, 42, Jose Figueroa, 36, Edwardo Munoz, 36, Samuel Garcia, 52, and Onofre Lopez, 37, from Falfurrias; and Alejandro Garza, 43, of Mission. The following three were convicted after a seven-day trial Oct. 25, 2012: Garza and Lopez, aka Goyo Lopez, both of Mission; and Zamora of Rio Grande City.

"It's a good day for law enforcement whenever we can take several tons of drugs off of America's streets," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "It's even better when we can also dismantle and cripple the organization behind those drugs, and remove its leadership, as our law enforcement team did in this case."

This drug trafficking conspiracy began in 2003 and continued until the arrests occurred in June 2012. This criminal organization specialized in avoiding the Falfurrias Border Patrol checkpoint by instead crossing the private ranches adjacent to the checkpoint.

Evidence presented at trial by the government included 19 marijuana seizures directly linked to this organization, totaling more than three tons of marijuana seized by law enforcement. Further, evidence presented showed that an outdoor restroom (outhouse) was used by the organization to hide marijuana on one of the ranches. The outhouse had a secret underground compartment where this criminal organization stored up to 1000 pounds of marijuana at a time. Evidence also included multiple vehicles used by this organization to circumvent the checkpoint, including trucks and multiple all-terrain vehicles.

Tamez has agreed to the criminal forfeiture of two pieces of real property located in Starr County: a house built by Tamez using drug proceeds, and a business used by Tamez to conduct his drug business. Tamez also agreed to forfeit $230,000 in currency seized from a safe deposit box where Tamez hid drug proceeds.

Marroquin has also agreed to criminally forfeit several pieces of jewelry and $6,000 in currency seized during his arrest.

The real properties involved in this conspiracy were either purchased with drug proceeds or used to facilitate the drug-trafficking activity. The ranch known as "Campo de Goyo" or the "Carolina Ranch," was specifically used by this organization as a staging area to store large quantities of marijuana before proceeding through the ranches around the Falfurrias Border Patrol checkpoint.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie K. Hampton, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.