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Contraband
01/11/2011

2 south Texas men plead guilty to trafficking almost 2,000 pounds of marijuana

LAREDO, Texas - Two south Texas men pleaded guilty on Monday to possession with intent to distribute almost 2,000 pounds of marijuana, announced U. S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas.

The marijuana was discovered in a van following a high-speed chase by law enforcement officers, which ended after the driver crashed into another motorist causing life threatening injuries.

The charges against both men resulted from an ongoing investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of Webb County Sheriff's Department and the Laredo Police Department.

Juan de Dios Garcia-Leal, 21, the driver of the marijuana-laden van, and Octavio Garcia, 35, occupant of the residence at 220 Shea St. in Laredo where the marijuana was stored and where the van was loaded, both pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 500 kilograms of marijuana on Jan. 10, before U.S. District Court Judge Micaela Alvarez.

Garcia-Leal, a Mexican national lawfully in the country, and Octavio Garcia, of Laredo, face no less than five and a maximum of 40 years imprisonment for the conviction and millions of dollars in fines. Judge Alvarez has set sentencing for April 11.

On Nov. 16, 2010, ICE HSI agents conducting surveillance at the Shea residence saw a white van driven by Garcia-Leal leave the residence. At the request of the agents, a Webb County Sheriff's Department marked patrol unit attempted to perform a traffic stop on the van. The driver refused to stop and instead fled, reaching speeds of up to 80 miles an hour in his effort to evade the patrol unit.

The pursuit ended when Garcia-Leal crashed into another motorist who suffered life-threatening injuries. Garcia-Leal fled the accident site on foot but was quickly apprehended. A search of the van resulted in the discovery of 892 kilograms (1,962 pounds) of marijuana. Garcia-Leal confessed to agents admitting he knew he was transporting marijuana and expected to be paid $500. Garcia-Leal was arrested and subsequently charged. The injured motorist was hospitalized.

Later the same day, ICE HSI agents conducted a search of the Shea residence and spoke with the occupant, Garcia. Garcia confessed to agents that in exchange for $300 he had arranged with a third party to permit his residence to be used to load marijuana into the van driven by Garcia-Leal. Garcia was arrested and subsequently charged.

Both men have been and will remain in federal custody without bond pending their sentencing hearing.

Assistant U. S. Attorney Josh Ackerman, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.