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Southeast Texas drug smuggling leader sentenced to nearly 22 years in prison

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The leader of a local drug smuggling organization was sentenced Wednesday to 21 years and 10 months in federal prison for smuggling 1,257 kilograms (2,771 pounds) of marijuana into the United States from Mexico via small fishing vessels.

This sentence was announced by U.S Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, and Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston.

Julio Alberto Chapa, 40, the leader and organizer of the drug smuggling organization, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to 262 months in prison. His prison sentence will be followed by a five-year-term of supervised release. Chapa's sentence was enhanced based on the following factors: his leadership/organizer role; he directly imported the marijuana from Mexico; he maintained a premises for distributing the marijuana; and a firearm was involved in the crime. Chapa pleaded guilty May 3.

Also sentenced Aug. 1 was fellow Corpus Christi resident Alfredo Gacia, 24. He pleaded guilty and will serve 87 months in prison. Two remaining defendants, Adam Ray Zamora, 21, and Mark Douglas Cannon Jr., 26, both pleaded guilty and will be sentenced later this month.

"This investigation permanently dismantled a major transnational drug smuggling organization," said Rutt. "This investigation shows how well our federal, state and local law enforcement agencies work together to keep our communities safe."

On March 5, at about 5:50 a.m., an officer with the Corpus Christi Police Department (CCPD), who was patrolling the beach near the south side of the city limits, observed two trucks and a van on the beach. The trucks were parked about 30 yards from the water and the van was parked along the edge. The officer observed a group of people moving large black bundles from the water to the van. After shining his light towards the group, they scattered and he witnessed a boat in the water. The van fled along the beach at a high rate of speed until it eventually got stuck in loose sand. Garcia, the driver, was arrested along with Cannon and Zamora, while Chapa was arrested a short distance away.

Recovered documents revealed Chapa was the owner and/or insurer of all three vehicles. Eleven bundles of marijuana were recovered from the van and the water with a gross weight of 406.4 kilograms.

The U.S. Coast Guard joined the investigation, and later the same day it located two vessels about 55 miles off shore that were approaching international waters. Three Mexican nationals were detained and 15 bundles of marijuana were recovered with a gross weight of 480.5 kilograms.

On March 6, a concerned citizen reported finding bales of marijuana hidden inside a buoy on South Padre Island, just south of the Port of Mansfield, Texas, jetty. Fourteen bundles of marijuana were recovered with a gross weight of 475 kilograms.

All three loads of marijuana were similarly packaged and contained unique markings that linked them to the conspiracy. The net combined weight of the three loads of marijuana was 1,257 kilograms, conservatively valued at $4 million.

The case was investigated by HSI, CCPD, and the U.S. Coast Guard's Investigative Service.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey S. Miller, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.