HSI, federal partner investigation results in Illinois woman pleading guilty to trafficking $12M in marijuana
LAREDO, Texas – An Illinois woman pleaded guilty July 7 to importing over 8,000 pounds of marijuana, following an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Patricia Pinto, 46, from Crete, Illinois, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana.
According to court documents, the investigation began Dec. 8, 2020, after a truck driver hauling 18 pallets of carpet on a commercial tractor entered the United States through the World Trade Bridge in Laredo. Law enforcement conducted an x-ray inspection and discovered a total of 3208.8 kilograms of marijuana. CBP officers identified Pinto as the creator of the driver’s entry documents and linked them to Associated Distributions, a company located in Houston. On July 20, 2021, law enforcement seized two cell phones from Pinto after she entered the United States from Mexico. A search of the phones revealed WhatsApp messages describing her role in forming the company as well as other incriminating discussions with co-conspirators. Further analysis of the phones connected Pinto to another incident that occurred Dec. 20, 2019, involving the seizure of 537.2 kilograms of marijuana in Falfurrias. The total amount of drugs involved in the case is estimated at $12.2 million.
A federal judge is waiting for the investigation to be completed before scheduling a sentencing date. At that time, Pinto faces up to life in prison.
Pinto remains out on bond pending the sentencing hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerard A. Cantu, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.