This article originally appeared in the Friday June 28, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
A Mission man pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges last week.
Luis “Pancho” Ortiz III, 39, of Mission appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Janice Ellington on June 21 in Corpus Christi.
Ortiz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.
Wearing a yellow smock from the Aransas County Detention Center, where he spent the past few weeks, Ortiz stood quietly throughout the hearing. His attorney, Rick Salinas of Mission, did the talking.
After he pleaded guilty, the judge set bond at $75,000 with a $7,500 deposit. Ortiz must wear a GPS monitoring device and remain on house arrest.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Ortiz in April during an investigation called “Broken Blue Line.”
Investigators linked Ortiz to Rodolfo “Rudy” Hernandez, the owner of an Edinburg-based company called Rolynn’s Transportation.
Along with regular mail, DEA agents believe Rolynn’s Transportation, a contractor for FedEx, shipped marijuana and cocaine to buyers nationwide. They mailed back cash.
“It’s a very extensive organization with a wide reach across the United States,” said DEA Special Agent Suzanne Minnick, who testified last month during a hearing in McAllen.
Agents identified five FedEx accounts linked to drug trafficking, Minnick said. More than 70,000 pounds of packages had been shipped through the accounts, although investigators couldn’t determine what all the packages contained.
After conducting a lengthy investigation, agents arrested company owner Rodolfo “Rudy” Hernandez, Ortiz and four other people. Another man remains a fugitive.
Public records don’t provide any details about what role Ortiz played within the organization. Prosecutors, however, prepared a lengthy factual basis for the plea, which ran at least nine pages long.
Investigators apparently believe Ortiz held a leadership role within the drug trafficking organization. His attorney disputed that characterization, which could complicate Ortiz’s attempt to receive a reduced prison sentence.
To avoid a 10-year mandatory minimum on the drug trafficking charge, Ortiz plans to cooperate with prosecutors.
If he provides what prosecutors deem “substantial assistance,” the government may file a motion for a downward departure. A federal judge will determine whether or not to grant the motion.
Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 5.