HOUSTON (AP) — Five people who worked for an organization that used Mexican tour buses to transport drugs to Houston and the proceeds back to Monterrey, Mexico, were sentenced on Wednesday by a federal judge to various prison terms, officials said.
Elisa Idalia Castillo, 53, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake to life in prison for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and to 20 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Martin Ovalle-Martinez, 46, was sentenced to 20 years for the money laundering charge and 25 years for two cocaine charges, acting U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson announced Wednesday.
Castillo and Ovalle-Martinez, both Mexican citizens who lived in Houston, were convicted during a trial in March. They will served their sentences concurrently.
Castillo was in charge of a bus depot in Houston and all the buses seized were leased and insured by her. Ovalle-Martinez was one of the bus drivers.
Lake also sentenced three other defendants for their roles in the drug trafficking organization.
Israel Torres, 35, was sentenced to just over nine years in prison. David Pacheco, 35, was given five years, seven months. Alberto Abel Martinez, 51, was sentenced to three years.
Torres and Pacheco both lived in Houston while Martinez lived in nearby Rosenberg. All are Mexican citizens.
All three men, who pleaded guilty before the March trial, were warehouse workers involved in the offloading of large amounts of cocaine from the buses and loading large amounts of currency onto them, Johnson said. They also distributed the cocaine and collected drug proceeds for shipment back to Mexico.
The organization used Mexican tour buses to transport cocaine to Houston and to transport cocaine proceeds to Monterrey. The cocaine and money would be hidden in the buses, usually in a secret compartment created in the gas tank. When buses would arrive in Houston, the few legitimate passengers onboard would be offloaded at a depot in Houston.
The buses then traveled to a warehouse where the cocaine was removed and sent to various distributors.
Proceeds from the cocaine sales were delivered to the warehouse or picked up nearby. The drug profits were then placed in the hidden bus compartments and taken back to Monterrey.
Between Jan. 1, 2006, and March 20, 2008, about $2.2 million and more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine were seized from tour buses operating in Texas and Mexico.
Three other accused members of the organization have not been arrested. They are Jorge Reynosa-Alejandro, 34, who lived in Rosenberg; and Marco Martinez-Cardenas, 38, and Abel Gonzales-Jaramillo, 41, both from Monterrey.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.