News Release
June 30, 2010
Contact: Special Agent Ramona Sanchez
Public Information Officer
(602) 664-5725

Mexican National Admits Role in Conspiracy to Transport Over 28,000 lbs of Marijuana into U.S.

 JUN 30 -- TUCSON, Ariz. -  Jose Paul Gastellum-Chavez, aka Juan Chavez Rodriguez, 57, of Mexico, pleaded guilty on Monday to an indictment charging him with: (1) Conspiracy to Possess with the Intent to Distribute Approximately 12,906 Kilograms of Marijuana between February of 2007 and June of 2008; (2) Possession with the Intent to Distribute Approximately 1,325 Kilograms of Marijuana on February 12, 2008; and (3) Possession with the Intent to Distribute Approximately 1,535 Kilograms of Marijuana on May 24, 2008.  The defendant is being held in custody pending sentencing. Sentencing is set before Judge Frank R. Zapata  on September 7, 2010.

The defendant was part of a drug trafficking organization responsible for transporting multi-ton quantities of marijuana from Mexico into the U.S. During the course of the investigation, law enforcement seized in excess of 28,000 lbs. of marijuana. The organization, utilizing tractor- trailers, brought multi-ton shipments of marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico via ports of entry located in Arizona. The shipments were then trans-loaded from the Mexican tractor-trailers to domestic tractor-trailers at various warehouses located in Nogales and Rio Rico, Ariz. The marijuana load was then driven to Tucson or Phoenix and eventually to cities throughout the United States.

Jose Paul Gastellum-Chavez’s role in the drug trafficking organization was to  coordinate the shipment of the multi-ton marijuana loads once they arrived in the U.S. He would secure drivers, tractor-trailers, warehouses and workers to aid in trans-loading the marijuana and also performed counter-surveillance. In addition, when a shipment of marijuana entered the U.S. from Mexico, Jose Paul Gastellum-Chavez reported the progress of the marijuana load directly to suppliers in Mexico

Jose Paul Gastellum-Chavez was one of 22 defendants indicted for their participation in the conspiracy.  Eighteen have pled guilty, been sentenced, or are awaiting sentencing. Three defendants, Gregorio Lopez-Rodriguez, Jesus Cota-Ibarra, and Jose Pastor Mendez-Huerta, are fugitives believed to be in Mexico.

Convictions for the charges listed above carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, a 10 year minimum mandatory sentence, a $4,000,000 fine or both. In determining an actual sentence, Judge Frank R. Zapata  will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges.  The judge, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

The investigation leading to the guilty verdict was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Border Patrol, Tucson Counter Narcotics Alliance, Arizona Department of Public Safety, and the South Tucson Police Department.  The prosecution was handled by James T. Lacey and Joseph W. Hanley, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Tucson.

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