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5 South Texas marijuana traffickers plead guilty

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Five men from Falfurrias, Texas, who were part of an organized effort to transport marijuana, pleaded guilty to drug charges Dec. 1.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and other agencies investigated the case.

Edward Mata, 27, Richard Scott Patton, 40, Luis Andres Longoria, 39, Lamar Gonzalez, 38, and Servando Guerra, 61, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of marijuana.

Between September 2008 and January 2011, the men transported marijuana through ranches around the Falfurrias U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint using four-wheel-drive vehicles, known as gators, to avoid detection. The investigation revealed the drug trafficking organization was led by Jose Maria Carbajal Jr., 41, also of Falfurrias. He was prosecuted in a separate case and is pending sentencing.

During the guilty pleas provided by the five men, the government described how this organization used four-wheel-drive vehicles in their criminal enterprise. The gators were loaded with marijuana at a point south of the Falfurrias Border Patrol checkpoint. Then, the gators were piloted through ranches to a point north of the checkpoint. The marijuana was then transported by ordinary means farther into the United States for distribution. During the investigation, one of the marijuana-laden gator vehicles was intercepted and another was found abandoned on a ranch.

According to court documents, Longoria helped Carbajal scout ranches and roads, and assisted in transporting the drugs. Patton transported the marijuana through the brush and ranches until it arrived north of the checkpoint; Mata also assisted Carbajal in arranging transport of the marijuana. In addition, this organization frequently used Longoria's and Mata's residences to store large drug loads. Guerra also assisted in transporting the marijuana for the organization.

Once the drugs made it north of the checkpoint, Gonzalez transported the drugs through ranches and also helped in scouting the ranches and roads.

Sentencing for all five men is set for Feb. 27. They face maximum sentences of life in federal prison and an $8 million fine.

In addition to ICE HSI, the following agencies also participated in the investigation: Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations (IRS), Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Brooks County Sheriff's Department.