Texas officials seize 10-tons of pot in bust
By Jennifer Leahy
Two men are due in federal court this morning in a case where authorities seized several vehicles, including two school buses, filled with marijuana valued at nearly $13 million.
Gerardo Valdez, 22, of Houston, and Juan Jose Villarreal, 35, of Donna, were arrested Saturday in a remote southeast Houston area and are charged with possession and intent to distribute nearly 19,000 pounds of marijuana.
Law enforcement agencies had been watching the area, in the 12000 block of Martindale - a site Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say is used for off-loading and distribution for marijuana shipments from the southern border.
Agents and officers saw several vehicles entering and exiting the property, identified by the U.S. Attorney's Office as a heavily wooded 5-acre lot. At one point, four vehicles were seen leaving the site at the same time.
Officers tried to stop the four, and a chase began, the office said. One vehicle evaded officers, while the driver and passengers of another - a black pickup - fled. Authorities found 1,200 pounds of marijuana in the pickup.
A pickup truck Villareal is believed to have driven contained 2,500 pounds of marijuana. Valdez was driving a rented van with 1,500 pounds of marijuana, authorities said.
The two buses were found in open-air sheds on the property.
Saturday's nearly 10-ton marijuana seizure follows the arrest Friday of two men accused of turning a Montrose area property into a sophisticated "grow house."
Houston police seized more than $4 million worth of marijuana plants inside a 1,400-square-foot home, in the 1200 block of West Drew. Tan Nguyen, 30, and Thien Nguyen, 35, have been charged with felony possession and remain in the Harris County Jail.
Agencies involved in the Saturday seizure included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Harris County Sheriff's Department, the Houston Police Department and the Pasadena Police Department.
Representatives from those agencies referred calls to ICE. Agency spokeswoman Luisa Deason declined to discuss the scope of the seizure.
Deason also declined to address whether the marijuana had been tracked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection from the border to the Houston area, citing an ongoing investigation.
Thien Nguyen is scheduled to appear in court April 4 and Tan Nguyen is scheduled to appear in court April 2.
Copyright 2007 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company
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