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Southeast Texas man sentenced to more than 8 years in prison for marijuana trafficking by boat

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A man from southeast Texas was sentenced Thursday to more than eight years in federal prison for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas.

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

Michael "Mickey" Pena, 46, from Kingsville, Texas, was sentenced April 25 to 97 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack. Pena asked the court's forgiveness and stated he had fallen on hard economic times.

In handing down the sentence, Jack told Pena that "you have choices when you go down this road."

She further noted that even though he was a minor participant in the conspiracy, she would not impose a more lenient sentence because Pena perjured himself at trial and did not accept responsibility until after the jury's verdict.

Pena will be required to serve a term of four years of supervised release after he completes his prison term. A federal jury convicted Pena Feb. 4 after less than a day of trial and only 30 minutes of deliberation.

"Drug smugglers seek the path of least resistance," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "The great collaborative work of our agents and law enforcement partners in this case should give pause to trafficking organizations who seek to exploit our coastal waters to move illegal drugs into this country."

The government proved that Pena participated in a drug trafficking organization that transported large amounts of marijuana, concealed in the hulls of altered shallow-bottom fishing boats. The drugs were transported via the intra-coastal waterway from Port Mansfield to Corpus Christi in an effort to circumvent U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in Falfurrias and Sarita.

Testimony revealed that in early 2012, organization members deconstructed a 21-foot Dargel Scout fishing boat, loaded the hull of the vessel with more than 1,100 pounds of marijuana, and rebuilt the deck of the boat over the course of 20 days. The boat was ultimately launched in Port Mansfield, where co-defendant Rogelio Mendoza drove the boat north through the intra-coastal waterway. The boat was intercepted by marine interdiction agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection just south of Corpus Christi.

The subsequent investigation revealed that Pena, arrived at marker 37 of the intra-coastal waterway with an empty boat trailer shortly after the boat was intercepted; he had registered the vessel in his name two weeks earlier. Certified state documents showed that members of the drug smuggling organization had previously owned both the boat and the empty trailer. Agents also testified that they had conducted surveillance of organization members scouting boat ramps near marker 37 about six weeks before the seizure and then they immediately drove to Pena's Kingsville residence.

Mendoza, 38, and five other members of the conspiracy have previously pleaded guilty before U.S. district judges in Corpus Christi and are awaiting sentencing; they include: Alberto Lopez, aka Alberto Lopez-Reyna, 40; Lombardo Zarate, 50; Glen Dial, 57; Luz Ramirez, 26; and Hector Perez-Gonzalez, 40.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey D. Preston, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.