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Contraband
09/29/2010

6 members of a South Texas marijuana smuggling group sentenced to prison

McALLEN, Texas - Six Starr County area residents in South Texas, who had been convicted of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms (2.2 tons) of marijuana, were sentenced Wednesday to lengthy prison terms. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas José Angel Moreno announced the sentences. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) in Falcon Dam, Texas, investigated the case with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol, and the Roma, Texas, Police Department.

Idalia Ramirez, 44, of Salineno, Texas, and a manager of a Starr County marijuana distribution group, was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison without parole by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. Co-defendants Juan Gabriel Cisneros, 25, Daniella Renee Castaneda, 20, Danny Ruben Castaneda, 47, Roel Mungia, 59, all from Salineno, Texas, and Billy Joe Marroquin, 31, of Falcon Heights, Texas, were also sentenced for their respective roles in the conspiracy to sentences ranging from 18 to 60 months.

Ramirez pleaded guilty in June 2010 to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 2000 pounds of marijuana between May 21, 2009 and March 6, 2010. Ramirez admitted to coordinating smuggling marijuana from Mexico into Starr County, Texas, and hiring co-defendants to store marijuana at their residences pending further distribution up north. Overall, ICE HSI seized more than 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) of marijuana connected to Ramirez's activities. On Sept. 29, Judge Crane held her responsible for not only the marijuana seized, but an estimated 6,000 additional kilograms of marijuana distributed as part of the conspiracy but not seized. Ramirez coordinated the crossing of at least one load estimated to contain at least 225 kilograms (495 pounds) of marijuana per week over a nine-month period.

Additionally, the sentence handed down by the court takes into consideration Ramirez's role in hiring others to store the marijuana in Salineno, a small community in Starr County, Texas, and near Roma and the Rio Grande River. Ramirez has also been ordered to serve a five-year-term of supervised release after she completes her prison term. Ramirez was indicted on April 20, 2010 and was arrested by ICE HSI agents the following day. She has been in federal custody held without bond since her arrest, and will remain in custody to serve her sentence. After she completes her sentence, Ramirez, a Mexican national, is subject to deportation.

Cisneros, along with Daniella and Danny Castaneda, who had stored 442 kilograms of marijuana for Ramirez at Danny Castaneda's residence in Salineno on Feb. 21, were arrested after law enforcement seized the marijuana. Indicted along with Ramirez in April 2010, Daniella Castaneda pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana on June 11; Cisneros and Danny Castaneda pleaded guilty to the same charge on July 2. After considering their respective roles in the conspiracy and their respective criminal history, Judge Crane sentenced Cisneros, Daniella Castaneda's common-law husband, to 33 months in prison to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release.

Daniella Castaneda was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. Danny Castaneda, Daniella Castaneda's father, was sentenced to a 60-month prison sentence and a four-year-term of supervised release. Cisneros and Danny Castaneda have been in custody since their February 2010 arrest; they will remain in custody to serve their sentences. Daniella Castaneda was released on bond March 1, and has been permitted to remain on bond until Oct. 18 when she has been ordered to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service to begin serving her sentence.

Mungia pleaded guilty in July to storing 81 kilograms of marijuana for Ramirez and was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for his role in the conspiracy. The 81 kilograms of marijuana was seized on March 26 by ICE HSI agents. In custody since May 19 when his bond was revoked for using illegal substances, Mungia will remain in custody to serve his sentence.

Marroquin, who was indicted with his uncle, Joel Luera, 48, of Falcon Heights, Texas, along with Ramirez, was also sentenced Wednesday. On June 4, Luera pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute the 364.2 kilograms of marijuana he stored at his residence in Salineno for Ramirez. Marroquin pleaded guilty to the same charge on July 2. Marroquin admitted to loading the marijuana at his uncle's residence into a vehicle in exchange for financial compensation. Today, Judge Crane sentenced Marroquin to 60 months in prison to be followed by a four-year-term of supervised release. Additionally, Judge Crane revoked Marroquin's prior federal term of supervised release imposed following a prior conviction for possession with intent to distribute less than 50 kilograms of marijuana out of Laredo, Texas. Already in custody, Marroquin will serve both sentences concurrently.

Luera was sentenced on Aug. 24 by Judge Crane to 60 months in prison and a four-year-term of supervised release. He has been in federal custody since his April 2010 arrest and will remain in custody.