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2 southeast Texas men convicted of trafficking cocaine

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A drug smuggler pleaded guilty Thursday to trafficking cocaine in Weslaco, Texas, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations multi-agency Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).

Jose Santos Casas-Gonzalez Sr., 51, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 29 kilograms (64 pounds) of cocaine and conspiracy to commit money laundering, before Senior U.S. District Judge Hayden Head. Rogelio Mata-Ramirez, 50, pleaded guilty last month to the cocaine conspiracy.

At their respective plea hearings, Casas-Gonzalez and Mata-Ramirez admitted hiring a driver in December 2010 to transport about 30 kilograms of cocaine through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint. They also admitted using Casas-Gonzalez's business, Rio Shallow Boats Inc., to help facilitate their drug-trafficking activities. Casas-Gonzalez further acknowledged he used the profits from his drug business to make his boat company appear legitimate. Casas-Gonzalez admitted using drug money to buy vehicles, pay for personal expenses and reinvest into his business.

Casas-Gonzalez and Mata-Ramirez were part of a cocaine conspiracy operating between the Rio Grande Valley and areas north, circumventing U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints by using south Texas ranches. Casas-Gonzalez and Mata-Ramirez smuggled large amounts of narcotics, primarily cocaine, through and around the Border Patrol checkpoints to various destinations throughout the United States.

Casas-Gonzalez and Mata-Ramirez trafficked narcotics using tractor-trailers, boats in the Intra-Coastal Waterway, and in various other ranch vehicles around the Border Patrol checkpoint near Sarita, Texas. Mata-Ramirez is a former King Ranch employee, and was a coordinator of the drug smuggling operation working for Casas-Gonzalez. Casas-Gonzalez was supplied with cocaine from the Los Zetas drug cartel; he used Rio Shallow Boats Inc. to make compartments to smuggle the contraband in boats, tractor trailers and trucks.

Both men will remain in custody pending their sentencing hearing, which has been set for Aug. 30. They each face a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment.

Casas-Gonzalez has also agreed to forfeit the real property located at 8129 North F.M. 88 in Weslaco, the location of Rio Shallow Boats Inc.

The multi-agency OCDETF investigation in Corpus Christi was led by HSI; the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations; Drug Enforcement Administration; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Kingsville Special Crimes and Narcotics Task Force; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Air and Marine Unit; CBP's Border Patrol; Texas Parks and Wildlife; and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie K. Hampton, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.