AMARILLO, Texas — Today, Russell Tim Shen, 69, Andre Jorge Hernandez, 39, and Ernesto Esteve, 50, all from Miami, Florida, appeared before U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater and pleaded guilty to their roles in a marihuana distribution conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.
Specifically, Shen and Hernandez pleaded guilty to one count of distribution and possession with intent to distribute marihuana. They face a maximum penalty of 5 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Esteve pleaded guilty to one count of misprision of a felony. He faces a statutory maximum of 3 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for all three defendants is scheduled for October 23, 2017.
According to plea documents filed in the case, in December 2013, Esteve traveled from Florida to Colorado with Hernandez. While in Colorado, Esteve purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies and equipment used to grow and cultivate marihuana plants. In February 2014, Esteve’s credit card was used to purchase additional materials used for the growth and cultivation of marihuana plants.
On March 14, 2014, Esteve paid for one-way flights from Miami, Florida, to Denver, Colorado, for Shen, who was an officer with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection stationed in Miami, Florida and Hernandez. Shen and Hernandez landed in Denver, Colorado, shortly after midnight on March 15, 2014. Shen and Hernandez rented a car in Denver, Colorado, which was due in Miami, Florida, on March 17, 2014.
On March 15, 2014, a Childress, Texas police officer pulled over a vehicle for following too closely. The vehicle was a rental car driven by Shen. During the stop, Shen identified himself to the police officer as a federal law enforcement officer. The passenger in the vehicle was identified as Hernandez, also a resident of Miami, Florida. Based on suspicious behavior, the Childress police officer asked for consent to search the vehicle. Shen refused to provide consent. So the police officer deployed his canine, who was already on the scene, to conduct a free-air sniff of the car. The police officer then informed Shen and Hernandez that he was going to search the car based on the canine’s alert. During the search, police found approximately 71 gross pounds of suspected marihuana in the trunk of the vehicle.
During an interview with law enforcement, Esteve made misleading statements to the agents about Shen’s and Hernandez’s conspiracy to distribute marihuana in an attempt to conceal the crime.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Childress Police Department, Amarillo Police Department, Douglas County, Colorado Sheriff’s Office and Castle Rock, Colorado Police Department are conducting the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Taylor is in charge of the prosecution.