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South Texas man pleads guilty to smuggling marijuana by boat

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A south Texas man pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

The two-year investigation was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with the assistance of the Kingsville Narcotics Task Force.

Alberto Lopez, aka Alberto Lopez-Reyna, 39, of Roma, Texas, entered into a written plea agreement before Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack, Jan. 30 in Corpus Christi.

From November 2010 until his arrest in December 2012, Lopez facilitated the transportation of large amounts of marijuana. The marijuana was concealed in the hulls of altered shallow-bottom fishing boats from Port Mansfield to Corpus Christi via the intra-coastal waterway to circumvent the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in Falfurrias and Serta, Texas.

Lopez admitted his role in supplying various loads of marijuana over the course of the conspiracy and mapping out boat docks in the Corpus Christi area used to retrieve the marijuana-laden vessels for further transportation to Houston. The government detailed how four loads of marijuana were intercepted and a total of 1,600 kilograms (3,527 lbs.) of marijuana were seized throughout the last two years.

The following five members of the conspiracy who served as drivers include: Lombardo Zarate, 49, Rogelio Mendoza, 37, Glen Dial, 56, Luz Ramirez, 25, and Hector Perez-Gonzales, 39. All have previously pleaded guilty before U.S. district judges in Corpus Christi; they have been sentenced to prison, or await sentencing.

Lopez faces a minimum of five and up to 40 years in prison, as well as a possible $5 million fine and a substantial money judgment. A sentencing date has not been determined.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey D. Preston, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.