One of three defendants arrested on a Tennessee highway and accused of trafficking large quantities of cocaine pleaded guilty Tuesday before a federal judge in Texarkana.
Rodolfo Javier Falcon, 35, Claudia Claribel Gardea, 34, and Jose Geraldo Ornelas-Pineda, 30, were arrested Feb. 11 on a highway in Tennessee. The trio was allegedly transporting two children and more than 20 pounds of cocaine, according to a factual basis document filed Tuesday in Ornelas-Pineda's case.
Falcon and Ornelas-Pineda are residents of Pittsburg, Texas. Gardea has a pending immigration hold, according to statements made by her lawyer when she appeared for arraignment
While the defendants were arrested in Tennessee, the three are all named in an indictment pending in the Texarkana Division of the Eastern District of Texas. The factual basis document includes an admission by Ornelas-Pineda that he rode in the Buick Enclave he and his co-defendants were riding in when they were taken into custody by a drug task force in Tennessee.
The document notes that while Ornelas-Pineda knew he was moving drugs from Texas to North Carolina, he never saw or handled the drugs or any money traded for them. Ornelas-Pineda's factual basis states that he was supervised by Falcon, that Falcon placed the drugs in the car and that Falcon told him when he could return to Texas from North Carolina.
The two young children sitting on hidden compartments which contained nine kilograms of cocaine are Ornelas-Pineda's, according to the factual basis. Ornelas-Pineda pleaded guilty Tuesday to possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine with the intent to distribute with the help of Longview, Texas, lawyer Jason Cassel at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven. The government is expected to move for a dismissal of a pending conspiracy charge at sentencing in the next several months.
Gardea is scheduled for a plea hearing Wednesday before Craven. Falcon's case is set for trial before U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder III.
While neither Ornelas-Pineda nor Gardea asked for a detention hearing at their initial court appearances, Falcon did. At a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Bryant, Texarkana lawyer attempted to convince the court that Falcon should be released while his case proceeds.