A man whose two young children were seated on top of a secret compartment containing nine kilos of cocaine when he was arrested earlier this year pleaded guilty Tuesday in a Texarkana federal court.
Jose Geraldo Ornelas-Pineda, 30, was arrested on a highway in Tennessee on Feb. 11 along with Rodolfo Javier Falcon, 35, and Claudia Claribel Gardea, 34. Discovered hidden in the Buick Enclave they drove were bundles containing more than 20 pounds of cocaine.
Ornelas-Pineda pleaded guilty to possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute at a hearing Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven. According to documents filed Tuesday, Ornelas-Pineda did not touch the drugs, did not know the quantity of drugs he was carrying and did not handle money. Falcon supervised the drug trafficking operation, according to the documents filed Tuesday.
Falcon and Ornelas-Pineda were living in Pittsburg, Texas, at the time of their arrests. The documents filed Tuesday state that Ornelas-Pineda was instructed by Falcon to drive the drugs to North Carolina and that Falcon would decide when they would return to Texas. Falcon was denied bond at a hearing earlier this year at which Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Hornok told the court that Falcon has crossed the U.S/Mexico border 57 times in the past five years.
Ornelas-Pineda and Gardea did not ask for bond hearings. All three defendants remain in jail.
They face up to life in prison and a minimum of 10 years on each of two counts listed in an indictment charging them with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine and possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute. Ornelas-Pineda will be scheduled for sentencing once the court has received a presentence investigation report with a recommendation for punishment under federal sentencing guidelines.
Gardea is expected to enter a guilty plea this week as well. Falcon’s case is set for trial in September.