Federal agents from the FBI, ICE, and Homeland Security served search warrants on a number of private residences on Tuesday as part of a massive bust into an alleged marijuana smuggling ring. It is not yet clear whether those who were arrested have retained any criminal defense lawyers to help them deal with this case. The busts resulted in the seizure of valuable property as well as the arrests of the following people:
1) Adolfo Tamez, aka "Wally"
2) Jaime Rodriguez Sandoval, aka "Pancho"
3) Ivan Alvarado, aka "TN"
4) Josue Rivera Rosario
5) Jesus Gonzalez-Salcedo, aka "Chuy"
6) Antonio Gonzalez
7) Fnu Lnu, aka "Chepe"
8) Cesar Ramos
9) Omar Martinez, aka "Chilango"
A copy of the criminal complaint can be found here: Criminal Complaint (Adolfo Tamez, Et. Al.).pdf
According to this complaint, a person named Daniel Nunez lead a group of Mexican nationals who allegedly smuggled large quantities of marijuana into the United States from Mexico through McAllen, Texas.
From McAllen, Texas, the Marijuana was allegedly shipped to Panama City, Florida, where it was broken down and then shipped to regional store houses throughout Florida.
Once Marijuana was sold, the cash proceeds would return to Mexico taking the reverse route.
In total, the group is alleged to have trafficked in more than $1,000,000 USD worth of marijuana a month. In terms of street value, Federal agents claim that the group moved approximately 3,000 pounds of marijuana per shipment.
Based on my past experience dealing with drug trafficking cases in Federal court, I can tell you that these arrests are the result of many, many months of investigating by the FBI and other agencies.
There is also little doubt in my mind that this case also concerns the use of confidential informants. For those who are not familiar with confidential informants, they are people who go undercover for law enforcement to provide them with information and set up deals.
Their testimony is later used to build a case against the target suspect(s).
In all likelihood, the confidential informants in this case got caught for something and were basically "turned" by Federal agents in exchange for promises of a lighter sentence. These types of deals are routine and function as the fuel behind most counter-narcotics investigations.
As a criminal defense attorney, I can tell you that this matter is EXTREMELY serious for those involved. A Federal judge will consider the following factors, among others, when evaluating the severity of this case. These include:
1) The large scale of the marijuana operation.
2) The length of time the marijuana smuggling and money smuggling took place.
3) The quantity of marijuana involved.
4) Any connections to violence or guns.
5) The amount of money involved.
6) The criminal histories of those involved.
The most important step that needs to be performed by a criminal defense attorney at this stage is an initial consultation with the client. Once an idea of the client's individual involvement in the case can be assessed, the degree of liability he is facing can be calculated.
From there, it will be extremely important for criminal defense lawyers to closely scrutinize all the discovery submissions filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Mapping out all the case facts is crucial to determining what the prosecution can and cannot prove.
It is important to remember that the burden of proof lies with the prosecution, not the defense. Therefore, as a primary matter, it is necessary to consider the possibility of taking the case to trial.
For instance, what forensic evidence, if any will the prosecution be relying on? I am sure this case concerns ample amount of electronic surveillance and will certainly include the forensic analysis of any computers seized when search warrants were served.
If there is a reasonable chance of winning at trial, it may be prudent to fight the case all the way.
However, this can be a very risky endeavor for someone who doesn't have a strong defense. If the likelihood of winning at trial is weak, then criminal defense attorneys representing the accused need to begin working on a plea bargain agreement.
Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, credit is given to those who cooperate with the Government, take responsibility, and avoid the time and expense of a trial.
While this case is no doubt a very serious one, it thankfully does not include allegations of cocaine smuggling. If it did, the consequences to the defendants could be far worse.
In any event, the next important step for criminal defense attorneys is to directly communicate with their clients and review all documentation, reports, and recorded evidence to be relied upon by the prosecution in this case.
Hopefully those who have been arrested will understand the extreme importance of hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help them get the best result possible in this case.