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July 22, 2013McAllen, TX, United StatesNarcotics

12 arrested in South Texas in alleged marijuana trafficking conspiracy

MCALLEN, Texas — A total of 12 individuals were arrested this week in connection with a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana from March 1, 2012 through June 25, 2013.

These arrests were announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The indictment, which was returned June 25, was partially unsealed upon the arrests made Monday and Tuesday. It remains sealed regarding those charged but not yet in custody.

The arrests stem from a yearlong Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation targeting the illegal importation and distribution of marijuana from Starr County, Texas, to other locations within the United States.

The OCDETF investigation dubbed "Operation Casanova" is being conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Criminal Investigation, and the Starr County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force.

According to court documents, Delfino Bazan, 44, of Rio Grande City and Houston, and his common-law wife, Alejandrina Martinez, 43, of Houston, were arrested at their Houston residence Monday. Both are charged with conspiring to launder proceeds from drug trafficking. Bazan is also charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana and several substantive drug trafficking counts. Bazan and Martinez both made their initial appearances Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge John R. Froeschner in Galveston. U.S. Magistrate Judge Froeschner ordered Bazan into custody pending a detention hearing to be held at a later date in McAllen. Martinez was released after posting bond and was ordered to appear in court in McAllen July 30.

The following nine other Texas residents were taken into custody Tuesday on charges of conspiring with Bazan to possess with intent to distribute marijuana: Baldemar Montalvo, 45, Enrique Montalvo, 40, Thomas Garcia, 52, Ivan D. Campos-Landa, 31, and David Ulloa Correa, 47, all of Rio Grande City; Jose Luis Palacios Jr., 37, of Mission; Edmundo Canales, 23, and Jose Luis Palacios Sr., 63, both of Edinburg; and Elee Campos Camargo, 37, of McAllen.

On July 19, Sostenes Ferreira-Garcia, 50, a Mexican national residing illegally in Rio Grande City, was arrested by law enforcement agents in relation to this case. He made his initial appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos and was ordered detained pending a detention hearing July 25.

All defendants, except for Martinez, are charged in the overall drug conspiracy which carries a potential range of punishment of five to 40 years and a possible $5 million fine. If convicted of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds, Baldemar Montalvo, Martinez and Bazan all face potential punishments of up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. With the exception of Martinez, each defendant further faces one or more substantive drug trafficking charges, with amounts ranging from 14 kilograms (31 pounds) to 1,959 kilograms (2,114 pounds) in each instance. The punishment range on these charges, upon conviction, varies depending on the amount of drugs involved, from no more than five years up to a maximum of life in prison.

All those arrested Tuesday are expected to make their initial appearances before Judge Ramos July 26, at which time they are expected to remain in custody pending further criminal proceedings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Juan F. Alanis, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting this case.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.