A Cuban rancher living in Texas was sentenced to more than 38 years in prison for working with a Mexican drug cartel and trafficking between one-half to one ton of marijuana each week for more than a year, officials have said.
Gilberto Morales, 57, was ordered to spend 460 months behind bars, give up his property – including the 160-acre ranch where he ran his operation – and hand over more than $520,000 for trafficking drugs and smuggling undocumented immigrants, including alleged cartel members, through his property in Fort Hancock, Texas, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
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“For more than a year, Gilberto Morales operated his very own smuggling corridor through his ranch right on the Rio Grande, working with a Mexican drug trafficking organization in smuggling bulk marijuana and undocumented immigrants,” U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff said in a prepared statement. “Today’s sentence represents just punishment for a defendant who was giving safe harbor to a dangerous Mexican cartel in the United States.”
Morales was convicted in July 2021 of conspiracy to possess 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana; possession of 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, as well as of charges related to harboring and conspiring to harbor individuals who are in the country illegally, according to authorities.
He was found to have smuggled at least 22,000 kilograms of marijuana into the U.S. from June 2019 to August 2020, while working with a cartel in Porvenir in Chihuahua, Mexico – located across the Rio Grande from his ranch. Morales was also found to have been smuggling undocumented immigrants, and housing at least four of them at his ranch, since as early as November 2019, officials said.
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Investigators found that Morales typically smuggled over 480 kilograms of marijuana at a time. While executing their multiple search warrants, investigators also found that Morales – who was previously convicted on drug conspiracy charges – was found to have had 11 firearms and about 1,833 rounds of ammunition.