CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - Five members of a local drug trafficking organization have been ordered to federal prison following their varying convictions on drug and/or firearms charges, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. Sentences ranged from 138-420 months in federal prison.
Longino Castillo, 27, and Isaiah Martinez, 20, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Castillo was also convicted of possession of a machine gun conversion device. Michael Molina, 25, Justin Ray Flores, 36, and Manuel Garcia, 31, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a synthetic cannabinoid. Molina further admitted to possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and felon in possession of a firearm. All are residents of Corpus Christi.
At a hearing that concluded late Wednesday, Jan. 10, Senior U.S. District Judge Hayden Head sentenced all five defendants to federal prison.
Castillo was ordered to serve a total of 420 months in prison. He received a 360 months for the methamphetamine conspiracy and 120 months possessing the machine gun conversion device to run concurrently. The court also imposed a 60-month sentence for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime which will run consecutive to the other terms imposed.
Martinez was sentenced to a total of 240 months in prison - 180 months for the methamphetamine conspiracy in addition to a consecutive 60 months for the firearms charge.
Molina received a 78-month sentence for the conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a synthetic cannabinoid as well as a 60-month consecutive term for possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime for a total of 138 months in prison.
Flores and Garcia received respective terms of 138 and 144 months in federal prison.
At the hearing, the court heard testimony regarding the manner in which authorities handle newly emerging synthetic narcotics, the adverse effects of those substance and imminent hazard they present to the public safety. Further testimony was provided about the large number of firearms and other items that were seized as a result of the investigation, some of which include an unregistered machine gun conversion device, several homemade suppressors, explosive devices, ammunition and body armor. In addition, the court heard about the impact synthetic cannabinoids have on the local community.
In handing down the sentence, Judge Head noted that the common practice of referring to synthetic cannabinoids as “legal” or “synthetic marijuana” misleads the public about the true dangers of the substances. The court further acknowledged the significant impact of synthetic narcotics, specifically the burden it places on law enforcement and the community.
Between May 2016 and May 2017, local law enforcement officers and federal agents conducted numerous search warrants at several residences and area hotels related to the distribution of narcotics by a group of individuals identifying themselves in online social media as “Team GoHard.” The investigation revealed that the group would frequently rent hotel rooms and move from place to place as a way to distribute the narcotics and evade law enforcement.
At each of the locations, law enforcement seized different types and quantities of controlled substances as well as multiple firearms. Laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of scheduled substances, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine base and marijuana. In addition, laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of 5F-MDMB-PINACA and FUB-AMB which are controlled under the Controlled Substance Analog Act.
In custody since their arrests, each defendant will remain in custody and serve their sentences at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be designated in the near future.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Corpus Christi Police Department conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Watt is prosecuting the case.