EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A federal judge has sentenced a Fort Hancock rancher to 38 years in prison for letting Mexican criminals use his property as a smuggling corridor for drugs and unauthorized migrants.

The sentence follows Gilberto Morales’ July 2021 conviction on charges of conspiracy to possess 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, possession of 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, conspiracy to transport aliens, conspiracy to harbor aliens and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

According to evidence presented in trial, Morales coordinated with a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Porvenir, Chihuahua, Mexico, to smuggle at least 11 tons of marijuana into the U.S. Morales, a Cuban national, was part of a scheme responsible for smuggling between a ton and a ton and a half of marijuana from Mexico per week, federal officials said.

On Aug. 14, 2020, a search warrant was executed at Morales’ ranch. Authorities found four undocumented migrants there and testimony at trial indicated Morales had been involved in migrant smuggling since November 2019. A second search warrant executed later that day located a stash house with 480 kilograms of marijuana allegedly belonging to co-defendant Sergio Ivan Gonzalez, the Department of Justice said.

The search also turned up 11 firearms and 1,833 rounds of assorted ammo. Morales faced the firearm charges because of a 2009 conviction in the Southern District of New York involving a charge of conspiracy with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. He was sentenced to 50 months in prison (four years and two months) for that.

This month, in addition to the prison sentence, Morales was ordered to forfeit his 160-acre ranch, nearly $157,000 in cash found stashed in his house on his ranch, two trucks, a horse trailer and numerous firearms and ammunition. He was also assessed a $520,000 fine.

“For more than a year, Gilberto Morales operated his very own smuggling corridor through his ranch right on the Rio Grande, working with a Mexican drug trafficking organization in smuggling bulk marijuana and undocumented immigrants,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff for the Western District of Texas. “Today’s sentence represents just punishment for a defendant who was giving safe harbor to a dangerous Mexican cartel in the United States.”

Porvenir, Mexico, is located east of Juarez and is known as a stronghold for gangs associated with the Sinaloa cartel, such as Mexicles and Gente Nueva.