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Don’t come back to US, federal judge warns drug cartel member

The former money man for an international drug cartel was sentenced in federal court in Houston Tuesday for aiding in a $1 million marijuana operation.

Jose Juan Banda-Corona, who was known by the nickname Cachetes, or Cheeks, admitted he was an accountant for the Gulf Cartel drug operation.

U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison sentenced him to three and half years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.

“Sir, if you are deported, which I think you will be, I hope you won’t come back here,” Ellison said.

Banda-Corona looked at him and indicated that he understood.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Darnell Smith told the judge that Banda-Corona, 36, was the fee collector for the cartel in Mexico and the U.S., and tabulated $1 million worth of business.

Defense attorney Fabian Guerrero asked the judge for leniency.

“He’s as pleasant a fellow as you’ll meet,” Guerrero said.

Banda-Corona was among 52 people named in a 31-count indictment in 2013.

Ellison sentenced four other defendants from the same indictment Tuesday, the majority of whom received similar advice from the judge. For the most part, their pleas were under seal, preventing the public from knowing the acts they admitted to committing.

Juan Oscar Rodriguez, 34, known by the nickname Cuatro, or Four, was given a sentence of just under five years in prison and four years of supervised release. Mario Alberto Gonzalez, 41, known as Cookie, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and four years of supervised release.

Julio Cesar Lerma, 36, known as El Licenciado, or the Graduate, who had pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana was sentenced time already served in federal detention.

Lydea Gonzalez, 56, who was not mentioned by nickname in the indictment, was sentenced to eight months in prison and two years of supervised release. She remained free on bond and will voluntarily surrender to officials.

So far, 35 codefendants have entered guilty pleas, though a number of them has yet to be sentenced.

Several of the defendants remain fugitives and two have died, including the man associates referred to as Comandante, or Commander, Galindo Mellado-Cruz, the founder of the Zetas.

Officials said he was killed in a shootout with Mexican federal police in the border region of Tamaulipas in 2014. The Zetas were an offshoot of the Gulf Cartel known for beheading civilians. U.S. officials have said Mellado-Cruz returned to the Gulf Cartel in a lower profile in the last years of his life.

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