BROWNSVILLE — A man responsible for smuggling hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash to the Rio Grande Valley from Chicago and Indianapolis, Indiana, will spend the next 8 1/2 years in a federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sentenced Arnaldo Bermea, 38, of Rio Grande City, Tuesday morning. Bermea pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more five kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.
Before sentencing, Bermea said he has had time to reflect on his criminal actions.
“I’ve been locked up for four years and have had plenty of time to look back on all the stuff I shouldn’t have done,” Bermea said, before asking for leniency and telling Hanen that he just wants to go home.
Bermea admitted to investigators that he had been involved in a multi-state drug trafficking conspiracy that dealt in marijuana and cocaine since around 2003, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick said in a press release.
According to the factual summary in Bermea’s plea packet, Brownsville Drug Enforcement Administration agents began investigating the Javier Garcia Drug Trafficking Organization in 2011 and identified him as a member of that organization in May of that year.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas, did not respond to a request asking for Garcia’s status and the press release sent out by that office didn’t mention Garcia. The court record does not indicate whether Garcia has ever been arrested, but does show he has been indicted on six drug charges and a money laundering charge.
Agents first learned Bermea was responsible for bulk cash transportation after observing him in Chicago meeting with a cooperating individual hired by the drug trafficking organization to transport $600,000 in bulk cash generated from sales in that city back into the Rio Grande Valley, court documents show.
Bermea identified himself as “Brother and Fat Boy” to this cooperating individual and told the person he was responsible for transporting illicit drug proceeds for the drug trafficking organization from the surrounding areas of Chicago and Indianapolis, Indiana, documents show.
By August that year, DEA agents were able to determine Garcia and Bermea, who at that time was in the Valley, were in telephonic communication to discuss that creation of hidden compartments in commercial trailers to transport drugs north and those agents also figured out there were in the process of loading cocaine and determined where it would be loaded, documents show.
Agents conducting surveillance identified a truck belonging to Bermea in the area on the day the commercial trailer was loaded with 253.5 pounds of cocaine, according to court documents.
DEA agents also learned that Garcia was creating concrete pillars to hide marijuana, figured out where they were being constructed and determined Garcia and Bermea discussed the creation of those pillars.
Five days later, authorities seized the 253 pounds of cocaine from a trailer in Edinburg and seized 4,673 pounds of marijuana from a garage in Mission. Agents also seized 836 pounds of marijuana in Prairie, Texas.
In September of 2011, DEA agents observed Bermea in a warehouse where 720 pounds of marijuana was loaded into a van after being delivered by a tractor trailer, court documents show.
So far, Hanen has sentenced six other defendants for their involvement with the drug trafficking organization.
Ramiro Espinoza, 48, of Brownsville, pleaded guilty to the same charge as Bermea and was sentenced to 6 3/4 years in prison. According to his plea packet, Espinoza traveled to Florida with Moises Ramirez, 34, of Brownsville, to ensure the delivery of cocaine, to remove it from its hidden compartment and to receive payment for the narcotics.
Ramirez admitted to being hired to drive a commercial trailer to Florida to deliver cocaine to a trafficking cell there and was sentenced to five years in prison and pleaded guilty to the same charge as Bermea.
Heber Bienvenido Tejada, 37, of New Jersey pleaded guilty to possessing with the intent to distribute 253 pounds of cocaine and was sentenced to four years in prison. Tejada was driving that trailer in Edinburg and also pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, like Bermea, Espinoza and Ramirez.
Jose Manuel Portillo-Guerrero, 42, of Valadeces, Tamaulipas, Javier Alejandro Aldava, 30, of Reynosa, and Oscar Erick Calvillo-Lores, 38, of Reynosa, were all arrested at that garage in Mission where authorities discovered the 4,673 pounds of marijuana and concrete pillars meant to conceal the drug.
Portillo-Guerrero was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Calvillo-Lores will spend 10 years in prison, and Aldava received a prison sentence of just over four years.