AMARILLO, Texas — An officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and two other Miami men pleaded guilty Monday to their roles in a marijuana distribution conspiracy.
These three guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas. This case is being investigated by the following agencies: FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Childress (Texas) Police Department, Amarillo Police Department, Douglas County (Colorado) Sheriff's Office, and Castle Rock (Colorado) Police Department.
Russell Tim Shen, 69, Andre Jorge Hernandez, 39, pleaded guilty to one count of distribution and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. They face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Ernesto Esteve, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony. He faces a statutory maximum of three years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. All three men are from Miami, Florida. Sentencing for all three defendants is scheduled for Oct. 23.
According to plea documents filed in the case, in December 2013, Esteve traveled from Florida to Colorado with Hernandez. While in Colorado, Esteve purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies and equipment used to grow and cultivate marijuana plants. In February 2014, Esteve’s credit card was used to purchase additional materials used to grow and cultivate marijuana plants.
On March 14, 2014, Esteve paid for one-way flights from Miami to Denver, Colorado, for Hernandez and for Shen, who was a CBP officer stationed in Miami. Shen and Hernandez landed in Denver shortly after midnight on March 15, 2014. They rented a car in Denver, which was due in Miami on March 17, 2014.
On March 15, 2014, a Childress, Texas, police officer pulled over a vehicle for following too closely. The vehicle pulled over was the rental car driven by Shen. During the stop, Shen identified himself to the police officer as a federal law enforcement officer. The passenger in the vehicle was identified as Hernandez, also a resident of Miami. Based on suspicious behavior, the Childress police officer asked for consent to search the vehicle. Shen refused to provide consent. So the police officer deployed his canine, who was already on the scene, to conduct a free-air sniff of the car. The police officer then informed Shen and Hernandez that he was going to search the car based on the canine’s alert. During the search, police found about 71 gross pounds of suspected marijuana in the trunk of the vehicle.
During an interview with law enforcement, Esteve made misleading statements to the agents about Shen’s and Hernandez’s conspiracy to distribute marijuana in an attempt to conceal the crime.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Taylor, Northern District of Texas, is in charge of the prosecution.