CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Five members of a local drug trafficking organization have been ordered to federal prison following their varying convictions on drug and/or firearms charges.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents investigated this case.
The imposed sentences ranged from 11 ½ years to 35 years in federal prison.
Longino Castillo, 27, and Isaiah Martinez, 20, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Castillo was also convicted of possessing a machine-gun conversion device. Michael Molina, 25, Justin Ray Flores, 36, and Manuel Garcia, 31, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a synthetic cannabinoid. Molina further admitted to possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and being felon possessing a firearm.
The five defendants, all Corpus Christi residents, were sentenced to federal prison late Wednesday.
Castillo was ordered to serve 35 years in prison. He received 30 years for the methamphetamine conspiracy and 10 years for possessing the machine-gun conversion device. The sentences are to run concurrently. The court also imposed a five-year sentence for possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. That sentence runs consecutively to the other prison terms imposed.
Martinez was sentenced to 20 years in prison — 15 years for the methamphetamine conspiracy in addition to a consecutive five-year term for the firearms conviction.
Molina received 6 ½ years for the conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a synthetic cannabinoid as well as a five-year consecutive term for possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime for a total of 11 ½ years in prison.
Flores and Garcia received respective terms of 11 ½ years and 12 years in federal prison.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the court heard testimony regarding the manner in which authorities handle newly emerging synthetic narcotics, the adverse effects of those substances and imminent hazard they present to public safety. Further testimony was provided about the large number of firearms and other items that were seized as a result of the investigation. Among those, an unregistered machine-gun conversion device, several homemade suppressors, explosive devices, ammunition and body armor. In addition, the court heard about the impact synthetic cannabinoids have on the local community.
In handing down the sentence, the judge noted that the common practice of referring to synthetic cannabinoids as “legal” or “synthetic marijuana” misleads the public about the true dangers of these substances. The court further acknowledged the significant impact of synthetic narcotics, specifically the burden it places on law enforcement and the community.
Between May 2016 and May 2017, local law enforcement officers and federal agents conducted numerous search warrants at several residences and area hotels related to narcotics distribution by a group of individuals identifying themselves in online social media as “Team GoHard.” The investigation revealed that the group frequently rented hotel rooms and moved from place to place as a way to distribute the narcotics and evade law enforcement.
At each of the locations, law enforcement seized different types and quantities of controlled substances as well as multiple firearms. Laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of scheduled substances, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine base and marijuana. In addition, laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of 5F-MDMB-PINACA and FUB-AMB, which are controlled under the Controlled Substance Analog Act.
The defendants remain in custody since their arrests, and will serve their sentences at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated at a later date.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Corpus Christi Police Department assisted with this investigation.