Trial Reveals Drug Shipments Hidden in Produce Shipments
MCALLEN, Texas—Witness testimony in a drug trafficking trial in South Texas gave a unique insight into how narco smugglers try to fool law enforcement in order to move drugs into metropolitan areas.
Later this week jurors will have to deliberate if Jose Alonzo Ibarra was part of the drug conspiracy that moved loads of drugs hidden in produce shipments or if he was just the brother of the conspiracy leader who ended up getting accused by three others looking to get a plea deal.
During the trial, jurors heard the testimony of 27-year-old Hector Reyes, one of the supervisors of a produce warehouse, who said he threw it all away to try to make extra money through drugs. He was to be paid $2,800 for his services, but he never got to collect.
Reyes, a father of two who had grown up in the rough South Texas neighborhood of Las Milpas, had built his way to a supervisory position in Paramount Produce, one of the largest lime importers, when in October 2012 his uncle Aurelio Martinez approached him about making some extra money by letting a group use warehouse space to package and move out drug shipments, he said during the trial.
“My mom was so proud I was the manager of a big warehouse,” Reyes lamented from the witness stand.
Reyes and his uncle met with Ibarra’s and his brother Esmerardo “Gino” Ibarra at a ranch near Mission Texas where they talked about using the warehouse to store and move packages, the witness said.
During his testimony, Reyes talked about how on January 2013, he and a colleague bought a load of limes which they had removed from their boxes and placed inside bigger boxes so they could fit more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana that had been loaded into a tractor trailer. Prior to bringing the drugs, Reyes put blue latex gloves over the surveillance cameras of the warehouse, thus covering their tracks, he said.
Reyes testified that Ibarra’s brother “Gino” had said he used produce loads to hide marijuana packaged inside the crates in order to fool anyone that looked at the shipment.
Defense attorney Carlos A. Garcia claimed in his arguments that federal agents wrongfully went after his client. “The government made a series of deals with people who had their hand caught in the cookie jar,” Garcia said. "There is no evidence that my client ever possessed marijuana.”
According to Garcia prosecutors have recorded phone calls and surveillance videos implicating the members of the conspiracy; however, his client is not in any of the recordings, and witnesses had identified the wrong man when asked about Ibarra.
The use of produce loads to hide drugs appears to be a trend that has caught on in recent years. Authorities at the ports of entry in South Texas typically seize a large shipment about once a month many times without the driver of the trailer knowing that the shipment actually had drugs, various court records obtained by Breitbart Texas show.
Follow Ildefonso Ortiz on Twitter @ildefonsoortiz.