Three Convicted in International Truck Theft Conspiracy Sentenced to Prison
|U.S. Attorney’s Office October 26, 2009|
HOUSTON—Three men who conspired to steal and transport millions of dollars of truck tractors, trailers and other heavy equipment to Central America have been sentenced to prison, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. Rito Jasso-Zorilla, 32, Victor Antonio Garcia, 27, and Orlando Gonzalez Huerta, 29, all citizens of Mexico, were sentenced by United States District Judge David Hittner this morning for their respective roles in assisting Yuri David Melendez, 42, of Houston, with the far-reaching scheme.
Beginning in 2001, Melendez received requests from his contacts in Central America for the purchase of stolen tractor trucks, trailers, tankers and other heavy equipment. Melendez would then locate the requested equipment at various industrial and commercial sites in the Houston area. Melendez recruited co-conspirators to assist with the theft of the equipment. Once stolen, the equipment was transported south by Melendez’s recruits to staging locations near Edinburg, Texas. Melendez frequently accompanied the drivers in his own private vehicle on the way to Edinburg, serving as a guide and look-out for law enforcement.
Once in Edinburg, Jasso-Zorilla and other as yet unidentified members of the conspiracy, arranged for transportation of the equipment across the border. Once in Mexico, drivers took the equipment to Melendez’s customers, most of whom resided in Guatemala and Honduras. Following delivery, Melendez’s contacts would pay him by wire transfer or cash delivery in Houston.
Melendez, who managed to evade law enforcement for years, was apprehended in January 2009. In mid-January, after receiving an order for two truck tractors and tankers, Melendez sent Garcia, who had previously stolen equipment for Melendez, to Reynosa, Mexico, to recruit Huerta as a second driver for the job. Melendez then arranged to have Garcia and Huerta flown to Houston, where they stayed in a local motel while Melendez located two tractor trucks and trailers.
On the evening of Feb. 8, 2009, Melendez drove Garcia and Huerta to the Colorado Oil Company in Sealy, Texas, where the two broke through a chain link fence with bolt cutters. Garcia and Huerta each drove a truck out of the company’s compound and south towards Edinburg and Melendez followed the pair in his private vehicle. Employees of the Colorado Oil Company reported the equipment missing. Using GPS tracking devices attached to the truck, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers located and arrested Garcia and Huerta in Live Oak County, Texas. Huerta identified Melendez in a photographic line-up. Within days, FBI agents located and arrested Melendez at his home in Houston.
For his role in the conspiracy, which included three separate thefts in late 2008 and early 2009, Garcia was sentenced to 51 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $380,000 in restitution. Huerta was sentenced 24 months imprisonment after being held accountable for the February 2009 theft, for which no restitution was owed because the trucks and tankers were recovered. Jasso-Zorilla, who admitted to having hired drivers for Melendez and facilitated the transport of equipment over the U.S.-Mexico border in connection with three thefts in mid-2008, was sentenced to 41 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $12,056 in restitution. The equipment from two of the three thefts for which Jasso-Zorilla was held accountable were recovered by law enforcement officers in south Texas.
Melendez pleaded guilty on May 7, 2009, and will be sentenced on Dec. 16, 2009. He faces up to five years imprisonment for his role in the theft conspiracy and a maximum of life imprisonment on a separate conviction for narcotics trafficking to which he has also pleaded guilty.
This case was investigated by DPS and FBI and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Searle.