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Last of 9 convicted for marijuana trafficking

 LAREDO, Texas - The last member of a local drug organization was sentenced to five years in federal prison on Tuesday for his role in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy. The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Joel Garcia Jr., 25, of Realitos, Texas, on May 24 to 60 months in prison. Garcia is the last of nine charged for illegally transporting more than 4,000 kilograms (8,800 pounds) of marijuana from April 1, 2006 to Oct. 1, 2009.

According to court records, the investigation began in April 2006 after a 394-kilogram (867-pound) load of marijuana was seized at a ranch located 18 miles south of Hebbronville, Texas. The load of marijuana was being transported in a pickup truck driven by Rene Chavera. Further investigation by agents revealed that an organization based in Roma, Texas, was sending pickup trucks loaded with marijuana through the ranches located throughout the Hebbronville, Texas, area. By driving the trucks loaded with marijuana through these south Texas ranches, the organization was able to avoid the various U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints located in the area.

ICE HSI was assisted by the Jim Hogg County Narcotics Task Force, the Central South Texas Criminal Investigations Unit, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol which led to the return of a 12-count indictment in July 2010.

The following Texas residents were sentenced in April 2011 to prison terms ranging from 30 to 120 months for their involvement in trafficking marijuana: Jose Luis Lopez Jr., 29, Irving Servando Garcia, 27, Eliseo Canales, 35, all of Roma; Jose Maria Viera, 25, Andy Janssen, 29, both of Premont; Joel (Cuate) Garcia Sr., 50, of Realitos, Texas; Rene Chavera, 25, of Benavides; and Jaime Arredondo, 24, of New Braunfels.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Guardiola, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.