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A third felony drug-trafficking conviction results in life sentence for smuggler

FALCON DAM, Texas — A three-time convicted drug trafficker was sentenced Friday to serve a lifetime prison term, following an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The sentencing announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Jose Moreno, Southern District of Texas.

Gilbert Lopez, 52, of Rio Grande City, Texas, the last of four individuals charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute almost 2000 kilograms of marijuana and more than 400 kilograms of cocaine, was sentenced on May 13 to a mandatory life term in federal prison without parole. U.S. District Judge Randy Crane handed down the sentence.

Lopez was indicted in 2006, along with three others, and pleaded guilty in March 2007. Based on Lopez’s two prior drug-trafficking felony convictions, the life sentence was mandated under applicable federal law after the United States filed the sentence enhancement.

“While some may mistakenly view smuggling and trafficking in narcotics as a path to a quick profit, this lifetime prison sentence of a recidivist criminal demonstrates that serious consequences await those who smuggle drugs,” said Jerry Robinette, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in San Antonio.

According to court records, from Jan. 1 to June 5, 2006, Lopez and his co-defendants, knowingly and intentionally entered in an agreement to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. On June 5, 2006, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol agents patrolling near the river in Starr County, Texas, saw a pickup truck leaving a road that went directly to the river. They followed the pickup to a residence where the truck pulled into the garage. As the agents approached the driver, identified as Gilbert Lopez, he ran into the house. The agents saw numerous bundles of drugs in both the bed of the pickup truck and the cab. One agent ran to the back of the house and saw three men jumping out a window. He was able to arrest one of the men, Eddie Diaz. The other two individuals who fled were later identified as the truck driver, Gilbert Lopez, and Daniel Lopez (no relation).

A subsequent investigation revealed that the owner of that residence was Jose Angel Diaz. A search warrant was executed at the house, and in addition to the drugs found in the truck driven by Gilbert Lopez, agents found more marijuana and cocaine inside the living room. Agents seized 468 kilograms (1,030 pounds) of cocaine and 1,960 kilograms (4,312 pounds) of marijuana.

Co-defendants, Eddie Diaz, 50, of Rio Grande City, Texas; Daniel Lopez, 43, of Garciasville, Texas; and Jose Angel Diaz, 56, of Rio Grande City, Texas, have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute narcotics and have been sentenced to 60, 150 and 210 months in federal prison without parole, respectively. Each is presently serving his sentence in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Gilbert Lopez is in federal custody and will remain in custody pending transfer to a Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future.

ICE HSI received invaluable assistance with this investigation from the CBP Rio Grande City Sector.

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