HOUSTON – A 45-year-old local man has been ordered to federal prison following his convictions of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to launder money, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez. A federal jury convicted Oscar Benitez, of Conroe, Nov. 3, 2016, following one day of deliberations and three days of trial.
Today, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore handed Benitez a 188-month sentence to be immediately followed by five years of supervised release. In handing down the sentence, Judge Gilmore noted that while Benitez was convicted for his involvement in two specific loads of cocaine totaling 101 kilograms, he was also involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy that trafficked large amounts of drugs and used a business he owned to launder large amounts of money from drug sales.
During trial, the jury heard that the investigation began in early 2011. At that time, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seized approximately four kilograms of cocaine from a vehicle that had been driven there from the Houston area. The investigation revealed the vehicle had recently been sold by Bensol Auto Sales in Arcola, Texas - a used car dealership that Benitez owned.
Houston agents then realized one of their confidential sources had already been speaking to Benitez about trying to buy large amounts of cocaine from him and his drug supplier. Benitez subsequently had told the individual that he moved large amounts of cocaine (25-100 kilograms at a time) and that he had a very well-connected drug supplier who could make such large deals happen.
The jury also heard that on June 16, 2011, a North Carolina Highway Patrol trooper pulled over a Ford F-150 pickup truck in Monroe, North Carolina, for a traffic violation. Reuben Orozco-Garcia was driving with Juan Gonzalez-Bejar as a passenger. The truck contained 81 kilograms of cocaine. Testimony at trial revealed Orozco-Garcia had made a deposit of $9,000 into a bank account belonging to Bensol Auto Sales and Benitez the day of the cocaine seizure. The jury also heard that Benitez was using this Bensol Auto Sales account to launder the drug trafficking proceeds and that he supplied vehicles from Bensol to his drug supplier to transport drugs to other parts of the United States.
Orozco-Garcia and Gonzalez-Bejar pleaded guilty in North Carolina and were previously sentenced to federal prison.
The evidence at trial also showed that in the fall of 2013, Guadalupe Herrera-Monarrez delivered approximately 20 kilograms of cocaine to Benitez on a ranch he owns in Conroe. This delivery happened in the early morning hours and was directed by Benitez’ drug supplier, who was then located in Mexico. Herrera-Monarrez was convicted for his role in this offense in a separate federal case.
The jury ultimately convicted Benitez on all accounts as charged.
Previously released on bond, Benitez was taken into custody following the sentencing today where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Also charged is Rodolfo Penaloza, 41, of Mexico, but not as yet in custody. He is considered a fugitive and a warrant remains outstanding for his arrest. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to contact the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at 713-693-3000.
The DEA, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety conducted this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Arthur R. Jones and Richard J. Magness are prosecuting the case.