• April 30, 2024

Former Mexican judicial officer convicted for hiring drivers to transport drug loads

Former Mexican judicial officer convicted for hiring drivers to transport drug loads

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – A federal jury has returned a guilty verdict against a Mexican citizen residing in the Brownsville area for conspiracy with intent to deliver cocaine, heroin and fentanyl, announced U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani.

The jury deliberated for approximately three hours before finding Gilberto Almaraz-Muniz, 55, guilty on one count of conspiracy and three counts of possession with intent to distribute various controlled substances following a five-day trial.

Law enforcement conducted a narcotics seizure in Klegberg County on March 10, 2022. At that time, authorities arrested co-conspirator Pedro Venegas Jr., 24, Brownsville. Once law enforcement noticed tampering within the engine, they took his truck to a secure location to remove the engine’s manifold and other components. The exposed internal workings of the engine revealed 23 bundles of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. The truck’s 6-cylinder engine had modifications to appear as an 8-cylinder to keep the drugs hidden within those areas.

Further evidence showed co-conspirator Jetzrael Saldana, 25, Brownsville, recruited Venegas as driver on behalf of Almaraz-Muniz who was a law enforcement official in Mexico and operated as the drug supplier. At trial, witnesses testified that Almaraz-Muniz would ask Saldana to recruit drivers to take drug loads past the immigration checkpoint for distribution in Houston and other areas. Almaraz would then arrange for the vehicles to be titled in the drivers’ names and have them do “dry runs” crossing the port of entry several times before hiding drugs within the vehicle.

The jury also heard evidence on two other drug seizures where Almaraz-Muniz hired drivers to deliver narcotics. The seizures included 83 kilograms of liquid meth at the Gateway International bridge in Brownsville on July 17, 2022, and a 24-kilogram seizure of black tar heroin in Robstown Sept. 26, 2022.

“This case removed over 100 kilograms off our streets,” said Hamdani. “My office will continue to prosecute not only those individuals caught transporting dangerous drugs but also those that provide and involve others in the illicit drug trade.”

Venegas and Saldana pleaded guilty June 1, 2022, and July 26, 2023, respectively, and their sentencing hearings are set for May 1 and May 8.

U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera presided over the trial and has set sentencing for July 17 for Almaraz-Muniz. At that time, he faces up to life imprisonment and a possible fine of up to $10 million.

Almaraz-Muniz has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

The Drug Enforcement Administration conducted the investigation with the assistance of the South Texas Narcotics Task Force in Kingsville and Homeland Security Investigations. Assistants U.S. Attorneys Oscar Ponce and Victoria Aranda are prosecuting the case.

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