Group that conspired to fake cocaine seizure sentenced to prison

McALLEN — A group of four people who staged a car crash in order to rip-off cocaine from their suppliers were handed lengthy sentences Friday afternoon.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Hugo Alejandro De Hoyos, 42, of Pharr; Arturo Bazan-Martinez, 57, of Mission; and Victor Manuel Gonzalez Jr., 43, of Pharr, to 35 months, 50 months, and 30 months in prison respectively.

De Hoyos will also be required to serve three years of supervised release after he completes his 35-month prison term, while Gonzalez will also serve an additional three years of supervised release.

Because Bazan-Martinez no longer has legal status to be in the United States, he was not given a supervised release term. Instead he will be deported back to Mexico after he completes his prison term.

Vanessa Rios, 30, also of Pharr and De Hoyos’ wife, avoided prison time and received a sentence of three years of probation.

De Hoyos testified that Rios merely handed him tape the night before the staged crash, when he was repackaging the sham cocaine for the aforementioned staged crash.

De Hoyos, Rios, Bazan-Martinez and Gonzalez had each previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess and distribute more than five kilos of cocaine, in connection with an August 2016 seizure of cocaine, according to court records.

Prosecutors alleged that the group conspired to steal 40 kilos of cocaine by staging a car crash and allowing law enforcement to seize what appeared to be 40 kilos of cocaine. Instead, authorities later determined what they had seized was sham cocaine with less than 40 percent purity.

Federal agents, who had been tipped off by informants of an incoming cocaine load, began investigating the source of the cocaine and tied it to De Hoyos and company.

De Hoyos, who testified in the trial involving two San Juan police officers who were subsequently accused of stealing the sham cocaine at the crash site, said it was Bazan-Martinez who approached him about stealing the cocaine from their drug cartel suppliers.

Bazan-Martinez, who had previously been convicted of drug smuggling, testified in the aforementioned trial that he was approached by a man from Mexico about moving the cocaine north, and he agreed to find him someone who could smuggle it, eventually bringing De Hoyos in to the deal.

The court noted it believed De Hoyos and Bazan-Martinez were the main players in this cocaine conspiracy, thus their prison-terms matched their participation level.

Gonzalez — who also testified during the aforementioned criminal trial and admitted that his role in the conspiracy was to stage the crash the morning of Aug. 27, 2016 — was De Hoyos’ employee and said he felt obligated, due to his difficulty in finding employment, to help his boss so he wouldn’t lose his job.

After two trials — one in December 2017 and one in May — the government failed to pin the cocaine conspiracy charges on the San Juan police officers, who were found guilty of lying to federal agents. This led to their dismissal from the San Juan Police Department.

The now-former San Juan officers, Richard Castillo and Salvador Hernandez, are expected to be sentenced later this year.

lzazueta@themonitor.com