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March 10, 2022El Paso, TX, United StatesNarcotics

ICE HSI El Paso investigation results in Cuban national sentenced to over 38 years for drug trafficking, other crimes

EL PASO, Texas – A Cuban national living in Fort Hancock, Texas, was sentenced Wednesday to 460 months in prison for drugs, firearms and immigration crimes.

Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) investigated the case with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Division, FBI, U.S. Border Patrol, and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

On July 23, 2021, Gilberto Morales, 57, was found guilty by a federal jury of conspiring to possess 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana; possessing 100 kilograms or more of marijuana; being a felon in possession of a firearm; conspiring to transport non-citizens; conspiring to harbor non-citizens; and harboring non-citizens.

“This case includes various factors that pose a threat to public safety and border security – drug and weapons possession to transporting and harboring non-citizens,” said Frank Burrola, special agent in charge for HSI El Paso. “HSI special agents utilize their ample authority to investigate a multitude of serious crimes that result from crimes such as these, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to prevent these crimes by removing dangerous individuals from our community.”

According to evidence presented at trial, Morales used his Fort Hancock ranch to further his drug trafficking and human smuggling activities. He coordinated with a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Porvenir, Chihuahua, Mexico. Porvenir is across the Rio Grande from the defendant’s ranch. During sentencing, the judge found that between June 2019 and August 2020, Morales smuggled at least 22,000 kilograms of marijuana into the United States, trafficking between a ton and half a ton of marijuana a week.

On Aug. 14, 2020, HSI special agents executed a search warrant at Morales’ ranch. Four undocumented non-citizens were located at the ranch. Testimony at trial indicated Morales had smuggled undocumented non-citizens from as early as November 2019. Later that same day, HSI special agents executed a second search warrant at the stash house belonging to co-defendant Sergio Ivan Gonzalez where Morales delivered bulk marijuana. Agents found over 480 kilograms of marijuana in dozens of large bundles. According to trial testimony, this was typical for the amount of marijuana Morales regularly smuggled through his property.

During execution of the search warrant on Morales’ property, HSI special agents found 11 firearms and at trial, a jury found Morales guilty of being a felon in possession of approximately 1,833 rounds of assorted ammunition in addition to 11 firearms. Morales’ prior conviction consisted of a charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine in the Southern District of New York in 2009. He was sentenced to 50 months in prison.

In addition to Wednesday’s prison sentence, Morales was ordered to forfeit his 160-acre ranch, nearly $157,000 in cash found stashed in his house on his ranch, two trucks, a horse trailer and numerous firearms and ammunition. He was also assessed a $520,000 money judgment.

Morales’ co-defendant, Sergio Ivan Gonzalez, aka Sergio Ivan Gonzalez-Rangel, 36, from Clint, Texas, pleaded guilty on July 2, 2021, to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana. Gonzalez’s sentencing is set for March 28.

Morales has remained in federal custody since being taken into custody after his guilty verdict on Aug. 14, 2020.

AUSAs Adrian Gallegos and Spencer Kiggins prosecuted this case on behalf of the government. AUSA Kristal Wade represented the government on the forfeiture procedures.

Gallegos and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas participate in Joint Task Force Alpha (JTFA), which was established by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in June 2021 to marshal the investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The Task Force focuses on disrupting and dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks that abuse, exploit, or endanger migrants, pose national security threats, and are involved in organized crime. JTFA consists of federal prosecutors and attorneys from U.S. Attorney’s Offices along the Southwest Border (District of Arizona, Southern District of California, Southern District of Texas, and Western District of Texas), from the Criminal Division and the Civil Rights Division, along with law enforcement agents and analysts from DHS’s ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration are also part of the Task Force.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of 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.