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Georgia drug smugglers sentenced in vegetable truck scheme

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Three men who planned to use a Gainesville warehouse to unload their vegetables and marijuana were sentenced to prison Thursday by Senior United States District Judge William C. O'Kelley. The investigation leading to the sentences was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Marco Ortiz-Barajas, 19, Angel Zamudio-Martinez, 54, and Jose Luis Chavez-Morfin, 43, all of whom are from Mexico but resided in the Atlanta metropolitan area, were convicted based upon their June 29 guilty pleas to a charge of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute.

"Today's sentences are a reminder that drug trafficking carries with it serious consequences and that no community is immune from its presence or its potentially destructive effects," said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.

"This case demonstrates that Atlanta and its surrounding environs continue to serve as a hub for the distribution of marijuana and other drugs smuggled into the United States from Mexico," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "HSI will continue to work with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to target the organizations responsible for drug trafficking in Georgia and to send a strong message that their criminal activity will not be tolerated here."

Chavez-Morfin was sentenced to five years, 10 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. Zamudio-Martinez was sentenced to four years, two months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. Ortiz-Barajas was sentenced to three years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. Each defendant will be deported to Mexico at the end of his sentence.

According to information presented in court, during the course of an undercover investigation HSI special agents learned that Ortiz-Barajas, Zamudio-Martinez and Chavez-Morfin were planning to unload a shipment of marijuana at a Gainesville warehouse. As soon as the tractor trailer arrived at the warehouse, law enforcement executed a search warrant. Under the cilantro, peppers and other green vegetables, law enforcement located and seized 1,572 pounds of marijuana. The approximate street value of the marijuana seized is $3,144,000.

ICE recommends parents and children learn about the dangers of drugs at the following website: www.justthinktwice.com. Additional information can be found at www.DrugFree.org. In May 2012, the Partnership at Drugfree.org released the findings of a new, national study entitled "The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study." This study, which tracks drug use and attitude trends among high-school aged teens in America, revealed some troubling findings. Most notably, it found that in 2011 marijuana use among teens rose over the preceding three years, with an especially sharp rise in heavy, past-month use (i.e., 20 or more times in the past 30 days) of the drug. Heavy, past-month use of marijuana saw an 80 percent increase among U.S. teens since 2008.

This case was investigated by HSI and members of the Gainesville-Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad. The agencies involved with the arrests include the Hall County Sheriff's SWAT Team, Gainesville Police Department and Hall County Sheriff's Office uniform patrol divisions, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, FBI Safe Streets Task Force, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Georgia State Patrol and Georgia State Patrol Aviation Division.