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Last defendant in a South Texas marijuana smuggling case pleads guilty

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A South Texas man pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of marijuana.

This case was investigated by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol, and the Brooks County Sheriff's Department.

Lamar Gonzalez, 38, was the last of the defendants involved in this case. The four other defendants pleaded guilty to the same charges earlier this month: Edward Mata, 27, Richard Scott Patton, 40, Luis Andres Longoria, 39, and Servando Guerra, 61.

According to court documents, these five men, all residents of Falfurrias, Texas, were part of an organized effort to transport marijuana. From September 2008 to January 2011, they smuggled marijuana through ranches around the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint using four-wheel drive vehicles known as gators to avoid detection. CBP agents determined that this organization was led by Jose Maria Carbajal Jr., 41, also of Falfurrias, who was prosecuted in a separate case, and is pending sentencing.

During Thursday's plea, the government described how this organization used gators in their criminal enterprise. The gators were loaded with marijuana at a point south of the Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint. Then the gators were piloted through ranches to a point north of the checkpoint so the marijuana could be transported via ordinary means further into the United States for distribution. During the investigation, one of the marijuana-laden gator vehicles was apprehended and another was found abandoned on a ranch.

The marijuana smuggling organization was led by Carbajal from his Brooks County ranch. Gonzalez had two roles in the criminal scheme. He drove loads of marijuana through ranches and acted as a scout for the organization.

Gonzalez is scheduled for sentencing on March 16. He faces a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life in federal prison, and a maximum $20 million fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon Muschenheim, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.