WASHINGTON -- Seven individuals, including several Mexican Mennonites, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Colorado last month for conspiracy to create a real-life drama that would fit right in on AMC.
At least, that could have been the charge. U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Barbara Roach of the Drug Enforcement Administration announced Wednesday that the men had been charged with distributing over 1,000 kilograms of marijuana.
Working with a Mexican drug cartel, the defendants allegedly hid the marijuana in the gas tanks of cars and inside large farm equipment. The marijuana came from Mexico and was brought to an auto-body repair shop in Colorado Springs, according to federal officials.
One defendant, Abraham Friesen-Remple, was arrested coming into New Mexico on Aug. 20, while the other six defendants -- Eduardo Tellez-Ponce, Ulises Castillo-Meraz, Enrique Harms-Groening (aka "Chikis"), David Loewen, Juan Reimer and Pedro Dyke-Friesenare -- are considered fugitives.
The conspiracy allegedly began around the beginning of 2010, and the federal grand jury's indictment mentions several phone calls that took place in 2011. The case was put forward before Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced new requirements for federal marijuana cases, but the charges likely would have been brought anyway given the connections to Mexican drug cartels and interstate smuggling.
"This case involves smuggling literally tons of marijuana into the United States from Mexico, with Mexican Cartel involvement,” Walsh said in a statement. “International trafficking of drugs, particularly with organized crime involvement, is a top priority of federal law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The fact that this case involves marijuana in no way reduces its status as a high priority matter, consistent with recent guidance from the Department of Justice on marijuana enforcement issues.”
Tellez-Ponce had been arrested back in 2010 for allegedly attempting to smuggle 151 lbs. of marijuana that had been welded inside of metal boxes concealed inside a gas tank. During a traffic stop, police found $17,500 in U.S. currency inside a plastic bag and seized $6,000 that Tellez had on his person. He later allegedly tried to get a cooperating informant to move a trailer to North Carolina for $2,000. Tellez had a change-of-plea hearing scheduled for February 2011, but it isn't clear whether his case was ever resolved.