Feds accuse three of trafficking 21 pounds of cocaine

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Two men and a woman arrested in February on a Tennessee highway have been charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine in a Texarkana, Texas, federal court.

Rodolfo Javier Falcon, 35, Claudia Claribel Gardea, 34, and Jose Geraldo Ornelas Pineda, 30, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven for arraignment on a two-count indictment Monday. The three defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine from December 2018 until Feb. 11 and with possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine on Feb. 11.

The defendants were arrested Feb. 11 as they traveled on Interstate 40 near Dickson, Tenn., with two children and allegedly more than 20 pounds of cocaine in secret compartments. Some of the alleged compartments were located beneath the seats where the children sat.

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Falcon pleaded not guilty to the charges after being appointed Texarkana attorney Jeff Harrelson to represent him. Gardea was appointed Longview, Texas, attorney Gregory Waldron and Pineda was appointed Longview attorney Jason Cassel. Gardea and Pineda entered pleas of not guilty as well.

Waldron waived the issue of bond at the hearing Monday, noting that Gardea is wanted by immigration officials if she is released from the custody of U.S. Marshals on the cocaine case. Cassel waived the issue of detention on Pineda’s behalf also. Harrelson asked the court to schedule Falcon’s case for a detention hearing to determine if he can be released while his case proceeds. Craven set the hearing for Wednesday morning at the federal courthouse in downtown Texarkana.

If found guilty of either of the two counts in the indictment, the defendants could face up to life in federal prison. The government is seeking forfeiture of the car the defendants allegedly were hiding the cocaine in– a 2013 Buick Enclave–and forfeiture of two cell phones and a money judgment of $1 million.

All of the cases are set for trial in May before U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III.

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