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South Texas drug trafficker receives a 30-year prison term

Long-term investigation shuts down major drug trafficking organization

MCALLEN, Texas - A convicted drug trafficker and ring leader was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 years in federal prison for possessing with intent to distribute 1,973 kilograms (4,341 pounds) of marijuana in June 2005. This sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Damian Montalvo, 36, of La Casita, Texas, in Starr County, the leader of the Montalvo drug trafficking organization was convicted in December 2010 by a jury's verdict following a two-day trial. He was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison April 27 by U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. At his sentencing hearing, Judge Crane considered the overall scope of the narcotics operation during the five-month period from January through June 5, 2006, as well as Montalvo's leadership role. In addition, the court ordered Montalvo to serve a 10-year term of supervised release after he completes his sentence. Montalvo has been in custody since his April 22, 2010 arrest. He will remain in U.S. Marshals Service custody pending transfer to an as-yet undetermined Bureau of Prisons facility where he will serve out his prison sentence.

"The sentencing of Damian Montalvo sends a strong message to drug trafficking organizations that HSI along with the U.S. Attorney's Office will not tolerate the brazen disregard for U.S. law," said Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in San Antonio. "HSI will continue to aggressively investigate those who engage in this dangerous criminal activity and stop them before they pump untold amounts of poison into our communities."

"Yesterday's lengthy sentence sends out a clear message to drug traffickers who operate within this district - the bigger the crime, the longer the time," said U.S. Attorney Moreno. "Organization leaders cannot insulate themselves by hiding behind lesser participants, and sentences will reflect the true responsibility for their crime."

According to court documents, during trial, U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol Agents and several of Montalvo's co-defendants testified to the events of June 5, 2006, that led to seizing more than two tons of marijuana, and ultimately to the charges against Montalvo. The jury learned Montalvo was the ring leader responsible for coordinating the transport and delivery of shipments of marijuana and cocaine from stash houses along the Rio Grande River to other stash houses in McAllen and Edinburg, Texas.

A convicted co-defendant testified that prior to the delivery of a shipment of cocaine and marijuana on June 5, 2006, he delivered to Montalvo the phones to be used by the 'scouts' involved with escorting and protecting the load of contraband so they could communicate with one another. After the drug load arrived at the stash house, others associated with or who worked for Montalvo, including Montalvo's brother-in-law, testified about unloading the contraband at the house.

During testimony, the jury heard that on June 5, 2006, CBP followed a vehicle driven by Gilbert Lopez from the Rio Grande River to the stash house in La Casita. Eddie Diaz, who was waiting to unload the shipment with Daniel Lopez, was arrested at that time. Both Gilbert Lopez and Daniel Lopez (no relation) alluded arrest that day. ICE HSI subsequently seized 153 bundles of marijuana and 209 bricks of cocaine from the stash house, and 43 bundles of marijuana and 213 bricks of cocaine from the truck Gilbert Lopez was driving. In total, 1,973 kilograms of marijuana and 468 kilograms (1,030 pounds) of cocaine were seized that day by federal authorities. Through further investigation, ICE HSI agents identified and arrested Gilbert Lopez and Daniel Lopez in August 2006. Jose Angel Diaz, the owner of the stash house, as well as Montalvo and Amado Molina Jr., were also identified as members of the transportation cell. Jose Angel Diaz was arrested by ICE HSI agents in December 2006. Molina and Montalvo were respectively arrested in November 2009 and April 2010.

Through agents, the jury heard corroborating testimony about telephone records which connected Montalvo to those at the Las Casitas residence and the load of marijuana.

The jury also heard testimony from one of Montalvo's family members that she "held" money for Montalvo which he had obtained through narcotics trafficking activities. They also heard that Montalvo had originally told agents he was merely a "scout" for drug loads and denied any involvement with the events of June 5, 2006. At trial, Montalvo testified in his own defense in an attempt to convince the jury he had not been involved in the drug trafficking on June 5, and furthermore, that the actual ring-leader of the group was Molina not himself.

While the jury acquitted Montalvo of five of six of the counts alleged in the indictment returned in April 2010, they found him guilty of possession with intent to distribute the 1,973 kilograms of marijuana seized on June 5, 2006, at the La Casita residence.

Others charged and convicted after pleading guilty for their involvement in the illicit drug enterprise lead by Montalvo included Molina, who admitted to working with Montalvo to coordinate the contraband loads and having delivered the phones to Montalvo on June 5. Molina was sentenced on April 25 to 10 years in prison for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana. Jose Angel Diaz, 56, of Rio Grande City, Texas, the owner of the La Casita stash house, was sentenced to 17 ½ years on May 8, 2008 for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute both marijuana and cocaine. Daniel Lopez, 43, of Garciasville, Texas, and Eddie Diaz (Jose Angel's brother), 50, of Rio Grande City, who were involved with unloading contraband at the stash house, were sentenced to 56 and 60 months, respectively, for their conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute both marijuana and cocaine convictions. Eddie Diaz was sentenced on Feb. 8, 2011, and Daniel Lopez was sentenced on Feb. 10, 2011. Gilbert Lopez, 52, of Rio Grande City, who was responsible for transporting the contraband from the river to the Las Casitas stash house and the last indicted co-defendant, pleaded guilty in March 2007 to the conspiracy charge and is scheduled to be sentenced May 9, 2011.

The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by the ICE HSI Falcon Dam office in conjunction with CBP.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anibal J. Alaniz and Juan F. Alanis, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.