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South Texas drug smuggler sentenced to nearly 20 years for trafficking more than 1.5 tons of marijua

MCALLEN, Texas — A south Texas man was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to possess and possession with the intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of marijuana.

This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas. Members of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigated this case under Operation White Line. The OCDETF investigation leading to the criminal charges was conducted out of McAllen and Houston, Texas. The following agencies are members of the OCDETF team: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Pharr Police Department, Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office, Houston Police Department (HPD), Harris County Sheriff's Department and the FBI.

Eduardo Ramirez, 59, of Rio Grande City, was sentenced to 235 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, which is to be followed by a five-year-term of supervised release. In handing down the sentence, Judge Alvarez noted that Ramirez was a leader in the criminal enterprise to transport the marijuana. Ramirez was convicted March 8, 2013 following a four-day trial.

"Those that transport large quantities of drugs through the Southern District of Texas on behalf of major drug cartels will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Magidson. "This case is another example of our cooperation with various law enforcement agencies in that effort."

According to court documents, evidence at trial revealed that Ramirez and others agreed to transport 1,567 kilograms (3,455 pounds) of marijuana in a tractor-trailer to other narcotics traffickers based in Houston in September 2011. An after-market compartment was built into a trailer that was subsequently used to transport the marijuana, as well as about 5,000 kilograms of Mexican charcoal. Documents, recorded conversations and testimony showed Ramirez had provided the cover load, which was to be used to mask the odor of marijuana and dissuade law enforcement officers from searching the trailer. Ramirez was unaware that the driver of the tractor-trailer was an undercover police officer.

On Sept. 25, 2011, agents conducted a controlled delivery of the marijuana. Ramirez and others traveled to Houston to meet the arrival of the marijuana load. Agents offloaded the marijuana and placed it in a van, which was picked up by a member of the conspiracy Sept. 27, 2011. Officers with the HPD later stopped the van for a traffic violation, discovered the marijuana and arrested the driver. Later that day, Ramirez paid about $30,000 to transport the marijuana.

Ramirez has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Vicente Montes and Eduardo Humberto Ramirez, the son of Eduardo Ramirez, are currently fugitives and warrants remain outstanding for their arrest. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to contact HSI at 800-973-2867. They are presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jesse Salazar and Juan Alanis, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.