By BERENICE GARCIA and VALERIE GONZALEZ
A trial will be moving forward against alleged members of a Rio Grande City drug trafficking organization, despite one of the defendants attempts to take the “fall” for the group.
Daniel A. Sanchez, the lawyer for Daniel Sepulveda, 28, appeared before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane for what was supposed to be a final pretrial hearing on Friday.
Sepulveda is facing two federal charges for possession and conspiracy to distribute a large quantity of cocaine with four other suspected members of the organization — his two brothers, Rene and Evaristo Sepulveda, and Juan Indalecio Garcia and Jose Luis Garcia.
The charges stem from an incident on Jan. 17, 2019 when federal agents caught the group moving 320 kilograms of cocaine along the riverbanks of Rio Grande City.
During a re-arraignment on Sept. 3, Daniel Sepulveda attempted to take responsibility for the incident by pleading guilty to both charges. Judge Crane advised his actions could lead to a life sentence, and Sepulveda agreed to continue. But Sepulveda changed his mind when he realized agreeing to the conspiracy charge would implicate the co-defendants, including his family.
“He’s willing to take the guilt on the possession and take whatever the punishment’s going to be,” Sanchez said of his client during Friday’s hearing.
“He just has his family to think about out there and repercussions so I think it’s just … he’s in a tough position,” Sanchez said.
The Sepulveda clan is no stranger to inter-family violence.
Daniel Sepulveda is suspected of playing a role in the kidnapping and murder of his own cousin, Joaquin Sepulveda, who at the time had a newborn child.
Christopher Donahue, a case agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, testified during Daniel’s February detention hearing that Joaquin went missing after a failed human smuggling attempt in July 2019. He fled to Mexico where it’s suspected he was killed.
Now, Sanchez says Daniel Sepulveda is willing to accept punishment for the possession charge without implicating the other defendants.
But both the judge and the attorney for the government expressed skepticism over the idea that others weren’t involved.
During the re-arraignment, Crane noted, “It’s hard to believe this quantity (320 kilograms) didn’t involve another person that he was getting it from or that he was going to deliver it to.”
The attorney representing the government, Patricia Profit, went further, suggesting he was trying to cover for the co-defendants.
“What the government is hearing is that he is agreeing or willing to take the fall for the other individuals,” she said on Friday. “I don’t know whether he’s planning to exculpate them or not but that clearly is not acceptable for the government.”
She added that the government had evidence that other individuals were involved and said the government would be moving forward with a trial.
Crane rescheduled Daniel’s final pretrial hearing and jury selection for Oct. 30 and Nov. 3., respectively, which will align with the hearings with the other defendants.
The likelihood that those dates will stand is unclear but Crane expressed an urgency to have the trial before the end of the year because one of the defense attorneys is set to become the district attorney in Starr County come January.
Upon taking the role of district attorney, Gocha Ramirez, who is representing Juan Indalecio Garcia, would have to withdraw from the case and so Crane said he hopes to have the trial no later than December to avoid that scenario.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the name of the Drug Enforcement Administration.