May 15, 2013 9:08 AM
BROWNSVILLE - The former boss of the Mexican Gulf cartel was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for a drug smuggling and distribution conspiracy that prosecutors said shipped more than a half ton of marijuana into Texas each week.
A federal jury had taken just two hours in September to find Juan Roberto Rincon-Rincon guilty of a conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana and cocaine. A judge imposed the life sentence, the maximum under the charges.
Rincon-Rincon did not testify, and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defense.
The U.S. Border Patrol captured Rincon-Rincon and three other men near the Rio Grande in October 2011. He told authorities he was fleeing cartel infighting, prosecutors told jurors.
"I am a commander of the Gulf cartel," he told investigators, said federal prosecutor Jody Young.
Prosecutors alleged that in his time as plaza boss, he oversaw the smuggling of 1,100 pounds of marijuana per week into Texas and collected taxes from those moving additional loads.
Rincon-Rincon went on to explain how much of a cut he got from each kilogram of marijuana that crossed the border from his territory and said he had one smuggler working for him who moved 500 kilograms per week into the U.S., Young said.
The defense tried to have the statements excluded from trial evidence but failed.
Trial evidence showed the Border patrol seized more than 9,000 kilograms of marijuana, about 10 tons, during Rincon-Rincon' tenure as the cartel's "plaza boss" in the border town of Rio Bravo in September and October 2011. That generated more than $20 million for the cartel.
Rincon-Rincon was "one of the highest ranking members of the Gulf cartel" and "posed a threat to citizens of both the United States and Mexico," said Javier Pena, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration.