POSTED: Friday, January 24, 2014 - 3:00pm
UPDATED: Friday, January 24, 2014 - 3:09pm
LAREDO, TX — Roberto Castillo, 34, of Laredo, has been found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. The federal jury returned the verdict very late yesterday after a two-day trial and approximately seven hours of deliberation.
During trial, the jury heard that on Nov. 6, 2013, law enforcement officers were conducting surveillance and observed a Ford Taurus and Ford Thunderbird drive past a suspected narcotics drop off location near the intersection of Abbeville and Allen Road in Laredo. The occupants met up at a nearby grocery store before the Thunderbird returned to the location where several individuals placed multiple large bundles inside the vehicle.
The driver of the Thunderbird bailed out of the vehicle as U.S. Border Patrol agents drove behind, at which time agents recovered five large bundles of marijuana weighing 172.7 kilograms. The driver was soon apprehended and identified as Eduardo Rodriguez, 24, of Laredo.
While the Thunderbird was being loaded with narcotics, agents also observed the Taurus driving in the same area. The vehicle failed to stop at a traffic light and was stopped by law enforcement. The occupants of the Taurus were identified as Gabriel Aguirre, 22, of Laredo, and Castillo.
Rodriguez and Aguirre both pleaded guilty in advance of trial.
Rodriguez admitted he was asked if he wanted to transport drugs, to which he agreed in exchange for payment of $800. He met with Aguirre and Castillo and followed them to a second location where he was instructed to get into the Taurus. While they drove to pick up the narcotics, Castillo and Aguirre communicated with what appeared to be smugglers from Mexico via cellular phone. He was driven to the Thunderbird and told to wait until he got the call that the area was clear. Rodriguez claimed Castillo and Aguirre said they were going to drive to the pick-up area and make sure there was no law enforcement presence. Soon after, he received a call from Aguirre to pick up the narcotic. He then drove to the area where several males came up to him carrying bundles of marijuana and placed them in his vehicle. He drove away with the bundles, but saw Border Patrol and decided to abandon his vehicle and hide.
U.S. District Judge Marina Garcia Marmolejo, who presided over the trial, has set sentencing for April 8, 2014, at which time Castillo faces a minimum of five and up to 40 years in federal prison and a possible $5 million fine. Previously released on bond, Castillo was ordered into custody following return of the verdict where he will remain pending sentencing.
The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and Webb County Sheriff’s Department with the assistance of Border Patrol. Assistant U.S. Attorney Raul Guerra prosecuted the case.