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Laredo jury convicts Chicago man of drug smuggling

Jury took 90 minutes to deliberate and return with the conviction

LAREDO, Texas — A Chicago resident was convicted on Tuesday for conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of marijuana, announced U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. This investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Hugo Cruz, 29, of Chicago, Ill., appeared before U.S. District Court Judge George P. Kazen, who presided over the trial and accepted the jury's decision to convict Cruz. The court ordered a pre-sentence investigation report and will set sentencing after the report is completed. Cruz faces a maximum punishment of 20 years in federal prison without parole and a $1 million fine.

The jury heard testimony from ICE HSI agents and CBP officers who described the events of June 28, 2010. On that date, CBP officers inspected Cruz's 1997 Econoline van at the Lincoln Juarez Bridge, which was being driven by Marco Antonio Toledo. During the inspection, CBP officers discovered 37 bundles of marijuana hidden in the vehicle's side panels. Toledo was arrested, charged and has been subsequently convicted by guilty plea of possession with intent to distribute the marijuana. He was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison without parole. As a result of the continued ICE HSI investigation, agents learned that the marijuana was obtained in Guadalajara, Mexico, and bound for Cruz in Chicago.

The defense attempted to convince the jury that Cruz had merely ridden as a passenger with Toledo to Mexico to see his sick father. The defense stated that Cruz was short on money and had flown back to Chicago after Toledo had left to return to the United States. However, during testimony a variety of witnesses and records revealed that Cruz had supplied to Toledo the van with the hidden compartments. Cruz promised Toledo $10,000 for transporting the contraband from Mexico to Chicago. In addition, Cruz would then travel to Mexico with Toledo, to arrange and supervise loading the van with the contraband. Toledo would then return to the United States alone.

Witnesses also testified that Cruz transferred the title to the van from his father's name to Toledo's name while in Chicago; and Cruz arranged and paid for American and Mexican Insurance for the vehicle. Six days later, on June 21, Cruz picked up Toledo at his residence in the van and they traveled together to the border and into Mexico. Through receipts, the government proved that Cruz paid for everything along the way and, while in Mexico, arranged for Toledo to receive 700 pesos for expenses. Cruz flew back to Chicago four days later.

The jury returned its guilty verdicts after deliberating for about 90 minutes.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jim Hepburn and Roel Canales, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.