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Port runners get long prison terms

LAREDO, Texas - Four people who broke through barriers at the Laredo Port of Entry in October, while trying to smuggle more than 700 kilograms of marijuana, were sentenced Thursday to prison terms ranging from almost 6 years to 16 years in federal prison without parole. U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson announced the sentences; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted the investigation.

On Oct. 14, 2008, Jesus Rodriguez-Jasso, 28, drove a large Suburban SUV from Mexico into the United States loaded with 718 kilograms (1,580 lbs.) of marijuana along with three adult passengers. The front passenger was his wife Yolanda Fernandez-Narvaez, 28, while Angel Perez-Contreras, 30, and Guillermo Alonzo-Salazar, 18, rode in the back with the marijuana. Most disturbing to U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood was that the three minor children of defendants Rodriguez-Jasso and Fernandez-Narvaez were also riding in the back.

After breaking through the barrier going against traffic into the outbound lanes, Jasso led U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers on a dangerous high-speed chase through the streets of downtown Laredo. After nearly causing multiple accidents, Jasso tried to flee back to Mexico. He lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a guard booth at the outbound lanes of the bridge. After the crash, CBP officers were stunned to see the amount of marijuana and people inside the SUV, particularly the minor children.

After investigating the incident, ICE agents soon discovered this was not the defendants' first time engaging in such outrageous criminal behavior. On at least three prior occasions, Jasso drove the same Suburban, or a similar vehicle, accompanied by the same co-defendants and contraband into the United States, but evaded capture. At the April 23 sentencing hearing, a CBP officer testified to the shocking details of one of the prior escapes. The testifying officer was nearly killed in June 2007 when he attempted to block the path of the oncoming Suburban. As he jumped out of the way and drew his service firearm on Jasso from only a few feet away, the officer told Judge Hood, Jasso actually grabbed his own child using him as a human shield, and yelled in Spanish, "Go ahead and shoot, and you will kill my son." The officer testified he was forced to let Jasso drive by, and all the defendants escaped.

The United States urged the court to consider the prior port running episodes in determining the sentence of each of the defendants. The defendants, through their lawyers, opposed the recommendation. When Judge Hood determined the United States had met its burden of proving the other crimes for sentencing purposes, all four defendants asked for mercy citing economic conditions in Mexico, as well as some of their drug addictions.

Judge Hood sentenced Rodriguez-Jasso to almost 188 months incarceration. Perez-Contreras was sentenced to eight years in prison, Fernandez- Narvaez received six years and Alonzo-Salazar was ordered to serve 70 months, just short of six years. All federal prison terms are without parole. The defendants have been in custody since their October 2008 arrest.

This case was investigated by ICE and CBP, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski.