McALLEN — After waiting for five years to learn their fate, three members of a drug trafficking ring learned their sentences in federal court on Friday. Two of the men — relatives — also admitted to instigating a prison smuggling operation that resulted in the arrests and convictions of prison staff.
Guillermo Morales, Erick Alan Torres Davila and David Martinez Jr. were sentenced Friday for their roles in what federal prosecutors characterized as an “extensive” drug trafficking operation that reached as far as Dallas, Alabama and Tennessee.
A fourth man, Elmer Macario Ramos, who was set to be sentenced on the same day, had his hearing rescheduled after the court learned he had been prevented from conferring with his defense attorney in recent days due to a medical quarantine.
The trio of men have been in custody since their arrests in November 2016. They were among nearly two dozen men and women implicated in a conspiracy to distribute vast quantities of narcotics, according to prosecutors.
That included hundreds of pounds of marijuana and cocaine, as well as large quantities of methamphetamine from about February 2013 to November 2016.
But almost as soon as they were remanded to custody to await their trial dates, prosecutors allege that two of them — Morales, and his stepson, Torres Davila — continued their drug trafficking ways by spearheading operations to smuggle contraband into their prisons by the very staff who worked there.
“I think I am probably enraged,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit during Morales’ sentencing Friday.
Profit, who has prosecuted the case since its inception, was referring to Morales’ statement that conditions at the Willacy County detention center where he is being held are not ideal. Profit maintains Morales and his stepson are at least partly responsible for that.
“The reason the government is angry about that is because Mr. Morales and his son have contributed to that,” Profit said.
In November 2019, prosecutors announced the arrest of six staffers at the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa on charges of bribery of a public official for smuggling food, prescription drugs and narcotics into the prison.
The arrests included corrections officers, cooks and medical personnel.
Another former commissary worker was charged with sex abuse of a prisoner for engaging in a sexual relationship with an inmate. Inmates cannot legally consent to relationships while in custody.
A seventh staffer, also a correctional officer, was later charged with bribery of a public official in March 2020.
Since then, all seven staffers have pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to federal prison themselves.
According to the indictments against the former prison workers, Torres Davila was the principal player involved in orchestrating the smuggling operation.
It was something he admitted to in court on Friday when U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa asked if he had anything to say for himself before being sentenced.
“While in custody, you’ve had cocaine found under your bunk. … That’s part of the problem we have here,” Hinojosa said.
“I still felt the necessity for the drugs and they offered me the opportunity to get drugs and it seemed very easy,” replied Torres Davila, also known as Cachorro, in Spanish.
Torres Davila’s defense attorney, Carlos A. Garcia, later said that at the height of his addiction, his client had used as much as 30 grams of cocaine every three days.
But the judge pushed back on the assertion that Torres Davila had merely taken advantage of a fortuitous offer from prison staffers, rather than the other way around.
“The reason they were willing to do this is because you approached them… and it wasn’t just drugs, it was some silly things like a particular food,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa admonished Morales, also known as Don Gio, and Torres Davila for their roles in leading the three-year long drug conspiracy, and for their parts in the prison smuggling operations, but ultimately showed them some mercy for their cooperation with prosecutors.
Both faced a maximum of up to life in prison, and up to a $10 million fine, according to court records.
Hinojosa sentenced Torres Davila to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release; however, since he is not a U.S. citizen, the man will likely be deported upon release.
As for his stepfather, Hinojosa sentenced Morales to 230 months — or just over 19 years in prison — plus an additional three years of supervised release. Like his stepson, Morales will also likely face deportation once his sentence is served.
The judge also waived the cost of incarceration for both men.
As for David Martinez, who has likewise spent the last five years in custody, Hinojosa sentenced him to time served, plus three years of supervised release.
The three men — Morales, Torres Davila and Martinez — were among 23 men and women who were charged in the trafficking conspiracy in 2016.
The three were swept up in an initial round of arrests on Nov. 4, 2016, along with Torres Davila’s wife, Elizabeth Lopez-Perez.
Prosecutors allege that in 2015, Morales attempted to transport nearly $1 million in drug money from Alabama to Mexico, according to the indictment.
On April 3, 2018 Morales and Torres Davila, along with several other defendants, agreed to plead guilty after reaching a deal with prosecutors.
The pair each pleaded guilty to count 1 of the 10-count indictment against the numerous defendants.
As part of their deals, the pair admitted to working together in the drug trafficking conspiracy — at one point even using Torres Davila’s residence as a staging and repackaging site for the narcotics.
When investigators found what they considered to be packaging materials which tested positive for cocaine residue inside the kitchen, they further arrested Torres Davila’s wife, Lopez-Perez, as an active part of the conspiracy, as well.
At one point, Torres Davila and Morales participated in transporting dozens of pounds of narcotics to the Weslaco ranch of their codefendant, Elmer Macario Ramos — the man who had been slated to be sentenced last Friday.
“In furtherance of this agreement, in April of 2016, Efrain Robledo supplied approximately 40 kilograms of cocaine to Guillermo Morales, Erick Alan Torres Davila, and Hector Hernandez-Cardenas, which they agreed to store at Elmer Macario Ramos’ ranch in Weslaco,” Profit said, reading from a statement of facts during that 2018 rearraignment hearing, according to the court transcript.
A law enforcement raid of that location later uncovered an additional 215 kilograms of cocaine that were also added to the defendants’ charges.
One co-defendant — Jesus Remedios Manqueros — was caught by Dallas police after he attempted to sell 500 pounds of marijuana to an undercover officer.
Another co-defendant — Norbertu Cantu — was apprehended in Tennessee after he transported 7 kilograms of cocaine to Memphis, court documents show.
Of the 23 people named in the indictments, nearly all have reached deals with prosecutors to plead guilty. Charges against another defendant — Armando Tanguma — were later dropped, as were those against Mario Gonzalez, who died before his case could go to trial.
Though Torres Davila and his stepfather, Morales, ultimately cooperated with the government on the case, prosecutors nonetheless made it a point to emphasize how integral the two men were to the operation.
Their roles weren’t ones of simple participants transporting narcotics at the behest of others, but rather, they were the planners and organizers of the entire conspiracy, Profit said Friday.
“Your honor, this was an extensive organization and it has to be balanced,” Profit said when the judge asked both prosecutors and the defense for their sentencing recommendations regarding Morales.
“Five years ago, this was an individual that lived a very nice, very high life… and by and large, the very source of those funds was drug trafficking,” Profit later said during Torres Davila’s sentencing.
“This particular defendant also used his home to repackage cocaine… while his children were there,” she added a few moments later.
One of Torres Davila’s children — a 13-year-old son — was in the courtroom while his father was being sentenced.
At various points during the proceeding, a woman could be seen comforting and consoling the boy as Torres Davila, through tears, expressed profound regret for his actions and how his crimes had cost him “the best years” of his life, including his ability to raise his son.
“I realize that I have thrown away this great family that I could have saved,” Torres Davila said.