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2 men sentenced in south Texas for marijuana smuggling conspiracy

LAREDO, Texas — Two men were sentenced Wednesday to five and 10 years in federal prison following their convictions of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Border Patrol.

Arturo Hawkins, 51, of Laredo, and Alejandro Garcia-Ortega, 26, a citizen of Mexico, received their sentences from U.S. District Judge Diana Saldana. Hawkins was sentenced to 120 months in federal prison, which is to be followed by an eight-year term of supervised release. Garcia-Ortega received a 63-month prison sentence, which is to be followed by a four-year term of supervised release. Both men pleaded guilty Dec. 27.

According to court documents, on Sept. 28, 2012, Border Patrol agents were patrolling a ranch near Mines Road in Laredo when they attempted to pull over a Ford utility truck that was driving in tandem with a black Ford F-150. As agents approached the utility truck on foot, the driver – later identified as Garcia-Ortega – drove into the brush on the side of the road. He then abandoned the moving truck and ran on foot.

Border Patrol recovered 41 bundles of marijuana weighing 364.2 kilograms (about 803 pounds) that had been covered with coffee from an aftermarket compartment in the flatbed of the truck. The agents found a cellular telephone which contained photographs of Garcia-Ortega and other evidence that led to his identification and subsequent arrest.

That same day, Border Patrol stopped the Ford F-150 that had been driving in tandem with the truck carrying the marijuana. The driver was identified as Hawkins. According to the plea agreement, telephone records showed that Hawkins had made a number of telephone calls at the time of the immigration stop on the white utility truck. Agents also discovered in Hawkins' possession a number of maps of various ranches, and trails through the ranches. Hawkins also admitted to acting as a scout for the truck loaded with marijuana.

Both men will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth R. Rabe, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.