Drug crime sends first-time offender grandmom to prison for life

May 10, 2012

Houston Chronicle on May 10, 2012 released the following:

“Houstonian, who has no secrets to trade, is doing more time than drug lords
By Dane Schiller

FORT WORTH – The U.S. government didn’t offer a reward for the capture of Houston grandmother Elisa Castillo, nor did it accuse her of touching drugs, ordering killings, or getting rich off crime.

But three years after a jury convicted her in a conspiracy to smuggle at least a ton of cocaine on tour buses from Mexico to Houston, the 56-year-old first-time offender is locked up for life – without parole.

“It is ridiculous,” said Castillo, who is a generation older than her cell mates, and is known as “grandma” at the prison here. “I am no one.”

Convicted of being a manager in the conspiracy, she is serving a longer sentence than some of the hemisphere’s most notorious crime bosses – men who had multimillion-dollar prices on their heads before their capture.

The drug capos had something to trade: the secrets of criminal organizations. The biggest drug lords have pleaded guilty in exchange for more lenient sentences.

Castillo said she has nothing to offer in a system rife with inconsistencies and behind-the-scenes scrambling that amounts to a judicial game of Let’s Make A Deal.

“Our criminal justice system is broke; it needs to be completely revamped,” declared Terry Nelson, who was a federal agent for over 30 years and is on the executive board of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “They have the power, and if you don’t play the game, they’ll throw the book at you.”

Castillo maintains her innocence, saying she was tricked into unknowingly helping transport drugs and money for a big trafficker in Mexico. But she refused to plead guilty and went to trial.

In 2010, of 1,766 defendants prosecuted for federal drug offenses in the Southern District of Texas – a region that reaches from Houston to the border – 93.2 percent pleaded guilty rather than face trial, according to the U.S. government. Just 10 defendants were acquitted at trial, and 82 saw their cases dismissed.

The statistics are similar nationwide.

The latest case in point came this week with the negotiated surrender of a Colombian drug boss Javier Calle Serna, whom the United States accuses of shipping at least 30 tons of cocaine.

While how much time Calle will face is not known publicly, he likely studied other former players, including former Gulf Cartel lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen.

Cardenas once led one of Mexico’s most powerful syndicates and created the Zetas gang. He pleaded guilty in Houston and is to be released by 2025. He’ll be 57.

As the federal prison system has no parole, Castillo has no prospect of ever going home.

“Any reasonable person would look at this and say, ‘God, are you kidding?’ ” said attorney David Bires, who represented Castillo on an unsuccessful appeal. “It is not right.”

Castillo’s elderly mother in Mexico has not been told she’s serving life, and her toddler grandson thinks she’s in the hospital when he comes to visit her in prison.

Castillo is adamant about her innocence.

“Put yourself in my shoes. When you are innocent, you are innocent,” she said. “I don’t say I am perfect. I am not … but I can guarantee you 100 percent that I am innocent of this.”

At the urging of her boyfriend, Martin Ovalle, Castillo became partners with a smooth-talking Mexican resident who said he wanted to set up a Houston-based bus company.

But the buses were light on passengers and shuttled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the United States and millions of dollars back to Mexico. Her lawyers argued she was naive.

Castillo claims she didn’t know about the drug operation, but agents said she should have known something was wrong when quantities of money and drugs were repeatedly found on the coaches.

“After hearing all the evidence as presented from both the government and defense in this case, the jury found her guilty … ,” said Kenneth Magidson, chief prosecutor here.

Former federal prosecutor Mark W. White III said if Castillo had something to share, she might have benefited from a sentence reduction for cooperating.

“Information is a cooperating defendant’s stock in trade,” White said, “and if you don’t have any, … the chances are you won’t get a good deal.”

Castillo has faith that she’ll somehow, some day, go free. Her daily routine doesn’t vary: when she eats breakfast, when she works, when she exercises, and when she brushes her hair, which has gone from red-blond to black and gray. The gray gets respect in prison.

“I will leave here one day with my head held high,” she said. “I don’t feel like a bug or a cockroach. I am a human being, with my feet firmly on the ground.””


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

“Operation Big Winner” Leads to a Federal Indictment of 20 Individuals with Various Federal Drug Related Charges

June 15, 2011

United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Arkansas on June 14, 2011 released the following press release:

“Little Rock – Christopher R. Thyer, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas and William J. Bryant, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Little Rock District Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today a sweep of arrests in Central Arkansas stemming from eighteen count indictment involving federal drug offenses. The federal indictment is the result of an investigation, “Operation Big Winner,” which charged 20 defendants with various federal drug related charges. As of today, seventeen defendants are in custody.

The DEA Little Rock District Office High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Group #62, which is composed of Special Agents from DEA and Task Force Officers from the Pulaski County Sheriffs Department, North Little Rock Police Departments, Benton Police Department, and Jefferson County Sheriffs Department opened an OCDETF Operation sponsored by DEA. As part of the OCDETF investigation, officers were deputized under the OCDETF Operation from the following agencies: Arkansas State Police, Pulaski County Sheriffs Department, Sherwood Police Department, and the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force.

This investigation targeted a large scale drug trafficking organization distributing multi-pound quantities of methamphetamine ice in the central Arkansas area. The methamphetamine ice was smuggled from Mexico to Central Arkansas for distribution.

Today’s “Operation Big Winner” was conducted by the DEA, United States Marshals Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Arkansas State Police, Pulaski County Sheriffs Department, Sherwood Police Department, North Little Rock Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriffs Department, Central Arkansas Drug Task Force, Benton Police Department, White County Sheriffs Department, Lonoke County Sheriffs Department, and the Arkansas National Guard.

On Friday, June 10, 2011, three federal search warrants were executed by the above agencies in White County and Lonoke County. A total of seven defendants were arrested and taken into custody. These defendants appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Jerome K. Kearney for plea and arraignment Friday.

Today additional federal arrest warrants were executed by the above agencies. A total of ten defendants were arrested. Those taken into custody will appear before United States Magistrate Judge Jerome K. Kearney for their initial appearance this afternoon.

Five defendants remain at large at this time and law enforcement is actively pursuing these defendants.

This case is the result of the investigative work of federal, state and local law enforcement members in the HIDTA program,” stated Thyer. “HIDTA provides federal resources to help reduce drug trafficking and its harmful consequences. With such a broad law enforcement reach, we are able to take drugs and those who seek to peddle them off our streets and out of our communities.”

ASAC Bryant stated, “Through the combine team effort of local, state, and federal law enforcement, this drug trafficking organization was dismantled. Methamphetamine continues to be the number one drug threat to the citizens in Arkansas. This organization was distributing multi-pounds of methamphetamine ice per week in Central Arkansas. This team effort of law enforcement led to the seizure of seven pounds of methamphetamine ice, which did not reach the citizens in our communities. Law enforcement agencies also seized the following items as a result of this investigation: thirteen weapons, seven vehicles, six motorcycles, two boats and one tractor.”

The investigation is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anne Gardner of the Eastern District of Arkansas United States Attorneys Office.

An indictment contains only allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and proven guilty.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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