Two brothers caught ferrying more than 70 pounds of cocaine across the country in a plane were sentenced Thursday in federal court in Bowling Green.
Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen, 22, was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison on charges of possession and conspiracy to possess five kilograms or more of cocaine, while his brother, Jesus Garcia-Guillen, 27, was given a nine-year prison sentence on the same charges.
The brothers, Mexican nationals who were in the United States on visas, were arrested Oct. 1, 2010, at Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport.
Bowling Green Police Department officers found two suitcases containing more than 70 pounds of cocaine in a Piper Seneca II twin-engine airplane piloted by Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen.
The plane had been tracked by officials from the federal Department of Homeland Security after the brothers were reported behaving suspiciously during a stop at a Cushing, Okla., airport to buy fuel.
The cocaine had a street value of nearly $1 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Western District of Kentucky.
At Thursday's sentencing, the brothers offered apologies for their actions, speaking haltingly before Chief Judge Joseph McKinley.
"I'd like to say I'm sorry. I'm nervous now," Jesus Garcia-Guillen said through an interpreter.
It was revealed at the sentencing that Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen, in the U.S. to attend flight school, was in the process of obtaining his commercial pilot's license so that he could fly for a Mexican airline.
According to attorney Robert Kuzas of Chicago, who represented Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen, Dagoberto disclosed to investigators that he received drugs in Arizona from a man identified as "Wilbur," and then flew the cocaine-filled suitcases to Pennsylvania, where the shipments would be picked up by a man identified as "Jefe."
Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen made six such trips from Arizona to Pennsylvania in the span of several months, including a dry run without drugs on his first flight.
Jesus Garcia-Guillen accompanied his brother on three of the trips, mainly to help Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen stay awake and keep him company, according to federal public defender Patrick Bouldin, who represented Jesus Garcia-Guillen.
"This crime could have occurred without my client - it could not have occurred without Dago," Bouldin said.
The charges to which the brothers pleaded guilty call for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, but McKinley granted Bouldin's request for a so-called safety valve for Jesus Garcia-Guillen, a provision in federal sentencing guidelines that allows defendants in drug trafficking cases to serve less than the mandatory minimum sentence if they are determined to have been low-level participants, told the truth about their involvement in the offense, did not use a weapon, were involved in a non-violent crime and have little or no criminal history.
Kuzas also requested a safety valve exemption for Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen, arguing that his client had no criminal history prior to his arrest in Bowling Green.
"I do believe (Dagoberto) made a very, very immature decision without thinking it through," Kuzas said. "He does come from a good family. This is not the type of young man that you will ever see in this courthouse again. This is not a kid who will be on a path of destruction for the rest of his life."
McKinley denied Kuzas' request for leniency.
"I know you don't have a criminal history, but you chose a whopper for your first go at crime," McKinley said when handing down his sentence on Dagoberto Garcia-Guillen.