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Drug smugglers involved in East Hidalgo Detention Center bribery scheme sent to prison

When he appeared before U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa on Friday morning, Guillermo “Don Gio” Morales apologized.

Morales — the leader of a drug trafficking organization affiliated with the Gulf Cartel — faced 30 years to life in federal prison.

“I would like to apologize to you, your honor,” Morales said, speaking through a translator. “Because I know that I did wrong.”

Hinojosa, though, had little sympathy.

In 2002, when Morales pleaded guilty to smuggling marijuana, Hinojosa sentenced him to nearly 3 years in prison.

“But here we are again,” Hinojosa said. “Nineteen years later.”

After being released from prison, Morales apparently doubled-down on drug trafficking.

Prosecutors estimated that Morales and his associates brought 400 to 500 kilograms of cocaine across the border every week. They smuggled the cocaine to Dallas, Memphis and other destinations throughout the United States, and shipped the money back to Mexico.

Other members of the organization included his stepson, Erick Alan “Cachorro” Torres Davila, and his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Lopez Perez.

Torres Davila went through about 30 grams of cocaine every three days, said his attorney, Carlos A. Garcia of Mission. Along with cocaine, he abused Xanax.

“He was a drug addict,” Garcia said, and made bad decisions as a result.

In November 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Morales during Operation Yeyo Express, which targeted “Gulf Cartel infrastructure and transportation cells,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.

Faced with lengthy prison sentences, Morales and Torres Davila cooperated with prosecutors.

While the details remain unclear, Morales and Torres Davila apparently provided the government with information about corruption at the East Hidalgo Detention Center, a privately owned jail that holds inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service.

Prosecutors brought charges against seven employees, including four guards, a commissary officer, a certified medical assistant and a cook supervisor.

One of the guards, Erasmo Loya, confessed to providing Torres Davila with cocaine. Others pleaded guilty to providing inmates with marijuana and contraband food.

All seven pleaded guilty. They received sentences that ranged from 6 months to two-and-a-half years in prison.

Morales and Torres Davila returned to court Friday, less than a month after the last employee was sentenced.

Dressed in a black tracksuit, Morales apologized and requested another opportunity.

“I think the opportunity was given to you 19 years ago,” Hinojosa said.

Morales faced 30 years to life in prison, Hinojosa said, based on guidelines published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The government, however, apparently filed a sealed motion that provided the court with additional information.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit, who prosecuted the case, requested 20 years in prison. Attorney Rey Merino of McAllen, who represented Morales, requested 10 years.

“He knows that he’s at the bottom of the barrel,” Merino said, asking for leniency. “And he knows he put himself there.”

Hinojosa settled on 230 months — about 19 years — in prison.

“I’m sorry that what we discussed 19 years ago didn’t make an impression on you,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa sentenced Torres Davila to 10 years in prison.

“On my behalf, I want to say that I will never be in federal court again,” Torres Davila said.

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