West Texas rancher sentenced for letting cartels use property as corridor for marijuana and migrants


Cuban-born Gilberto Morales will serve 38 years in prison and pay a $520,000 fine for association with Mexican gangs

Marijuana grows in the mountains surrounding Badiraguato, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A federal judge sentenced a Fort Hancock rancher to 38 years in prison for letting Mexican criminals use his property as a corridor for drug smuggling and unauthorized migrants.

The sentence follows the conviction of Gilberto Morales in July 2021 for conspiracy to possess 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana, possession of 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, conspiracy to transport foreigners, conspiracy to harbor strangers and being a criminal in possession of a firearm.

According to evidence presented at trial, Morales coordinated with a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Porvenir, Chihuahua, Mexico, to smuggle at least 11 tons of marijuana into the United States. Morales, a Cuban national, was part of a scheme responsible for smuggling between one and one and a half tons of marijuana from Mexico per week, federal officials said.

On August 14, 2020, a search warrant was executed at Morales’ ranch. Authorities found four undocumented migrants there, and trial testimony indicated that Morales had been involved in migrant smuggling since November 2019. A second search warrant executed later that day located a stash containing 480 kilograms of marijuana that belong to co-defendant Sergio Ivan Gonzalez, the Justice Department said.

The search also uncovered 11 firearms and 1,833 rounds of assorted ammunition. Morales faced firearms charges as a result of a 2009 conviction in the Southern District of New York involving a charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. He was sentenced to 50 months in prison (four years and two months) for this.

This month, in addition to jail time, Morales was ordered to confiscate his 160-acre ranch, nearly $157,000 in cash found stashed in his home on his ranch, two trucks, a horse trailer and many firearms and ammunition. He was also fined $520,000.

“For over a year, Gilberto Morales operated his own smuggling corridor through his ranch directly on the Rio Grande, working with a Mexican drug trafficking organization in smuggling bulk marijuana and undocumented immigrants” , U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff told the Western. District of Texas. “Today’s sentence represents a just punishment for a defendant who provided refuge to a dangerous Mexican cartel in the United States.”

Porvenir, Mexico is located east of Juarez and is known as a stronghold for gangs associated with the Sinaloa Cartel, such as Mexicles and Gente Nueva.

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