7 Aug 2007


Smuggler's Partner Pleads Guilty in Border Agents Case
By Fred Lucas
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
August 07, 2007

(CNSNews.com) - The owner of a "stash" house who allegedly worked with a Mexican drug smuggler shot by Border Patrol agents has struck a deal with federal prosecutors.

Cipriano Ortiz-Hernandez pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. Cybercast News Service reported last month that Ortiz-Hernandez owned the stash house where Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila of Mexico made drug shipments in October 2005.

Ortiz-Hernandez' plea agreement comes after members of Congress criticized a federal prosecutor for granting a "humanitarian" pass for Aldrete-Davila to enter and exit the United States unescorted. Aldrete Davila, already given immunity for one drug charge, reportedly smuggled more marijuana into the country to be stored at the home of Cipriano Ortiz-Hernandez.

Terms of Ortiz-Hernandez' plea agreement are sealed. The sentencing hearing is set for Nov. 2.

On Feb. 17, 2005, Aldrete-Davila tried to smuggle more than 700 pounds of marijuana across the Mexican border into Texas. U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean confronted him, and he was shot in the buttocks while escaping on foot back into Mexico.

Federal prosecutors struck a deal with Aldrete-Davila to testify against the two agents in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the marijuana-smuggling offense.

Aldrete-Davila returned to the United States, received free medical treatment at an Army hospital, and was also given "humanitarian passes," which allowed him to enter and exit the country at will, while receiving medical treatment for the bullet wound. Ramos and Compean were sentenced to 11 and 12 years each in prison.

At investigative hearings held by both the House and Senate last month, Democrats and Republicans criticized U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton (Western District of Texas) for giving Aldrete-Davila a humanitarian pass, considering his background. Further, members of Congress wanted to know why the jury in the border agents case was not informed of the October load of drugs brought into the United States.

The timing of the plea bargain is "most curious," said Andy Ramirez, chairman of Friends of the Border Patrol, a group advocating for the release of Ramos and Compean. He believes a deal was struck to avoid a trial that would include testimony about Aldrete-Davila's role in the drug conspiracy.

"The whole thing is continued obvious and blatant suppression of evidence," Ramirez told Cybercast News Service. "He's doing all he can to keep Congress from their fact-finding on this case."

Sutton spokeswoman Shana Jones would not talk about specifics of the case. But she said there could be other persons charged in the drug conspiracy. She did not rule out that the plea agreement might be in exchange for turning over other members of the drug ring.

"If terms aren't public, I wouldn't be in a position to comment on what cooperation he (Ortiz-Hernandez) might be giving the government," Jones told Cybercast News Service. "Often times people plea in exchange for information they provide to the government about other criminal activity."

Jones said the crime could carry a penalty of ten years or more in prison.

When Ramos and Compean were tried, their defense attorneys attempted to have a second drug offense by Aldrete-Davila introduced as evidence. But Judge Cardone ruled it was not relevant to the case.

Sutton has said, "I would like nothing more than to have a prosecutable case against Aldrete - one based on competent, admissible evidence."

According to documents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, dated October and November 2005, Ortiz-Hernandez and another Texas man, Armando Vasquez, were arrested in connection with the marijuana case. But Aldrete-Davila has yet to be charged with any offense.

DEA documents appear to positively identify Aldrete-Davila as a player in the drug smuggling operation at Ortiz-Hernandez's home. In the documents, Ortiz-Hernandez describes Aldrete-Davila as having a colostomy bag. It was known that he wore a colostomy bag as a result of the injuries from the shooting in 2005.

"This van contained approximately 6 bundles of marijuana," the DEA documents read. "The total weight of the marijuana seized by the DEA on 10-23-2005 from the van and the residence was 752.8 pounds."

At another point in the documents, Ortiz-Hernandez's brother tells DEA agents that they "should know Davila's identity because he is the person who was shot by Border Patrol agents about six months ago."

During the Senate hearing, Sen. Diane Feinstein asked Sutton if it was wise to give a pass to a known drug dealer.

Sutton responded, "If he ran another load of dope, it was a mistake [to give him the pass]. If he did not run another load of dope, it wasn't."

See Earlier Story:
No Pardon Promise for Ex-Border Patrol Agents (July 19, 2007)

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