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Jury Finds Warehouse Manager and Truck Driver Guilty in Drug Conspiracy

NOV 04 (LAREDO, Texas) - A federal jury sitting in Laredo convicted two Laredoans guilty of being involved in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, announced Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit, Houston Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. The verdicts against Rafael Ortega aka Tio, 57, and Baltazar Ibarra Cardona aka Balta, 55, were returned last night following a three-day trial.

Both were found guilty of the conspiracy. Cardona and Ortega were also convicted of one and four counts, respectively, of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. 

During trial, the government presented testimony from 13 witnesses and admitted more than 300 exhibits to prove their guilt in the drug conspiracy which occurred from June 2011 through June 2013. Ortega was a warehouse manager who allowed the Erasmo Trejo Nava drug trafficking organization to use the facility, while Cardona was one of several truck drivers used by the organization to transport marijuana from Laredo to Dallas.  

Ortega was a warehouse manager in Laredo who, unbeknownst to his employer, made the building available for the loading and unloading of marijuana before and after business hours and on weekends. He received $3,000 on each occasion. Ortega allowed members of the drug organization to prepare the drug shipments using the warehouse and warehouse yard. A trailer would bring large wooden crates to the warehouse which were unloaded and readied for marijuana bundles to arrive from stash houses. As many as 138 bundles each weighing 20-40 pounds were unloaded at the warehouse and placed into the crates. 

Surveillance showed Ortega meeting the co-conspirators at the warehouse and unlocking the gates to allow them access and entry. Testimony further revealed that Ortega used the warehouse forklift to assist the organization with unloading and loading of the crates into the trailers.

Evidence established that Ortega used his employer’s warehouse unload, load and transport approximately 6,394 kilograms of marijuana. 2,801 kilograms were eventually seized by law enforcement at the checkpoint, while 1,858 kilograms were seized from Cardona as he attempted to transport the drugs to Dallas.

Cardona was a commercial truck driver willing to transport marijuana loads for $15,000. He would pick up trailers loaded with the marijuana left at the warehouse for transportation to Dallas. On a weekend in October 2011, the organization loaded four large crates with marijuana and placed them onto a trailer at the warehouse provided by Ortega. On Oct. 2011, Cardona drove a tractor to the warehouse and picked up the marijuana-loaded trailer to transport to Dallas, taking a longer route via Highway 83 to circumvent the IH-35 checkpoint in the hopes of evading law enforcement. However, he was stopped by a Zavala County deputy between Carrizo Springs and Uvalde with an expired driver’s license as well as expired insurance on the tractor. He also had a false bill of lading showing that his cargo was destined to a hardware store in Abeline. A search of the tractor trailer revealed he was transporting 1,858 kilograms of marijuana. Evidence established that this had been Cardona’s third trip for the organization.

A total of 18 others previously pleaded guilty. Erasmo Abdon Trejo Nava, 43, Jose Angel Trejo, 42, Ovidio Rodriguez, 41, Victor Hugo Trejo Nava, 41, Francisco Colin, 41, and Salvador Saldaña-Medrano, 36, all of Laredo; Jaime Enrique Montalvo-Ruiz, 44, of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; and Leocadio Ruiz, 47, of Dallas, entered pleas of guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds. Five others - Juan Manuel Vargas Aguilar, 45, Mario Albert Rodriguez, 29, and Ricardo Ramirez, 33, all of Laredo; Arturo Lozano, 47, of Dallas; and Joshua Sanchez, 32, of Nuevo Laredo – pleaded guilty to the conspiracy. Gerardo Moreno Recio, 48, of Nuevo Laredo, was convicted of two separate counts of possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, while Laura Heredia Garcia, 50, of Nuevo Laredo; and  Erika Alvarez, 38, Raquel Margarita Ramos Jimenez, 44, and Leslie Bernice Trejo, 22, all of Laredo, entered pleas of guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.

The case against two others remains pending.

The charges were the result of a long term Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Investigation dubbed Operation Trena Sin Trono spearheaded by the Drug Enforcement Administration and IRS - Criminal Investigation with the assistance of
Homeland Security Investigations, Laredo Police Department, Zavala County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Lou Castillo is prosecuting the case. 

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