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Warehouse Manager Ordered to Prison

MAR 30 (LAREDO, Texas) - The first of 20 defendants convicted in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana has been ordered to prison, announced Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit, Houston Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. A federal jury convicted Rafael Ortega aka Tio, 57, of Laredo, of one count of conspiracy and four counts of possession with intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana on Nov. 3, 2015, following a three-day trial.

Today, U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo ordered he serve a total of 120 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. In sentencing Ortega, the court took into consideration the evidence presented at trial which established Ortega was accountable for facilitating the transportation of more than 6,300 kilograms of marijuana from Sept. 24, 2011, to Aug. 27, 2012.

During trial, the government presented testimony from 13 witnesses and admitted more than 300 exhibits. Ortega was a warehouse manager in Laredo who, unbeknownst to his employer, made the building available to the Erasmo Trejo Nava drug trafficking organization 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.

The warehouse in question had no knowledge of Ortega’s use of their warehouse for these illicit purposes. Ortega was a trusted employee who had been employed by the warehouse for more than 20 years and had full access to the warehouse to include keys to the gates, office, warehouse doors and security codes. 

Baltazar Ibarra Cardona, 55, of Nuevo Laredo, was also convicted at trial and is awaiting sentencing. He was one of several truck drivers used by the organization to transport marijuana from Laredo to Dallas.

The remaining 18 defendants had previously pleaded guilty and are also awaiting sentencing. Erasmo Abdon Trejo Nava, 44, Jose Angel Trejo, 43, Ovidio Rodriguez, 42, Victor Hugo Trejo Nava, 42, Francisco Colin, 42, and Salvador Saldaña-Medrano, 37, all of Laredo; Jaime Enrique Montalvo-Ruiz, 45, of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; and Leocadio Ruiz, 48, 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, 46, Mario Albert Rodriguez, 30, and Ricardo Ramirez, 34, all of Laredo; Arturo Lozano, 48, of Dallas; and Joshua Sanchez, 33, of Nuevo Laredo – pleaded guilty to the conspiracy. Gerardo Moreno Recio, 49, 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, 51, of Nuevo Laredo; and  Erika Alvarez, 39, Raquel Margarita Ramos Jimenez, 45, and Leslie Bernice Trejo, 23, all of Laredo, entered pleas of guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.

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, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force 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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