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ICE arrests 5 for conspiring to bring 1,800 pounds of marijuana to Chicago

CHICAGO - Five men who allegedly conspired to locally distribute 1,800 pounds of marijuana were charged in federal court on Saturday following their arrests on Friday. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

José Mejia, 34; Jesus Vieyra, 46; and Daniel Villelda, 45; all of Brownsville, Texas; and Enrique Haro, 43; and Ismael Cornejo, 26; both of Chicago, were charged March 6 in the Northern District of Illinois for possessing 1,800 pounds of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

According to court documents, in February Mejia allegedly contacted an ICE agent from McAllen, Texas, who was working in an undercover capacity. Mejia allegedly hired the undercover agent - who he believed to be a truck driver - to transport a large shipment of marijuana from Texas to Chicago.

As part of the investigation, ICE agents conducted surveillance of two meetings between Mejia and the undercover agent in Texas. ICE agents also monitored several phone conversations between Mejia and the undercover agent during which they allegedly discussed the details of the drug delivery and payment of $90 to $100 per pound of marijuana shipped.

According to the affidavit, on March 1, Mejia and Vieyra met the undercover agent in Brownsville, Texas. Mejia and Vieya allegedly delivered 1,800 pounds of marijuana in 76 bundles to the undercover agent in Brownsville, Texas. ICE agents subsequently arranged to have the 1,800 pounds of marijuana transported to Chicago as part of a "controlled delivery."

During an undercover telephone conversation on March 5, Mejia instructed the undercover agent to bring the marijuana-laden vehicle to a restaurant on Chicago's south side. Later that day Haro and an unidentified individual took the van to a residence on Avenue M in Chicago and unloaded the marijuana inside the garage.

ICE agents conducted a consent search at the garage and took possession of the marijuana, which has a local street value of about $1.8 million. Mejia, Vieyra and Villelda were arrested March 5 at a hotel in Burbank, Ill. where they were staying. Haro and Cornejo were arrested the same day after law enforcement officers stopped them on Interstate Highway-55 and discovered a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of marijuana in the truck bed.

"Working together with our local and federal law enforcement partners, we identified and disrupted this smuggling and distribution conspiracy," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "This investigation is continuing to dismantle the illegal organization completely."

ICE was assisted in the investigation by the following agencies: U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Air and Marine Unit in Detroit, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Chicago Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Kness, Northern District of Illinois, is prosecuting the case. If convicted, each defendant faces a minimum of five years and up to 40 years in prison.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.