Two women "mules" - dope smugglers - pleaded guilty Monday to possessing more than $1.6 million worth of cocaine with the intention of distributing it.
Priscilla Castenada and Rosa Isela Unzueta, both of Chicago, were arrested Feb. 5 in Tooele County by a Utah Highway Patrol officer when their vehicle made an illegal lane change. Papers were not in order, and a search of the car turned up a secret compartment where 14 bags of nearly pure cocaine were hidden.In exchange for the guilty plea on possession, a conspiracy charge was dropped. In addition, federal prosecutors agreed to request no more than 15 months in prison - compared with a possible maximum of 10 years to life in prison, and a possible fine of $4 million.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene pointed out that during sentencing, set for July, he will not be legally bound by the terms of the agreement. "You understand I could change that," he said. He could impose a higher sentence than 15 months.
According to the indictment, Castenada and Unzueta made a deal with a Colombian national in Chicago on Jan. 25. The Colombian paid them $8,500 to pick up drugs in California.
The women first flew to Miami for a car but something was wrong with it. Then they took a plane back to Chicago, were provided with another car, and drove to San Jose, Calif.
On Feb. 3, they turned the vehicle over to two individuals who were not named in the indictment. The car was returned two days later, "loaded" with cocaine, the indictment says.
They left San Jose and drove toward Chicago, but were stopped by the Utah officer on Feb. 5.
"What did you do that makes you guilty of this charge?" Greene asked Castenada. She began to whimper, had to wipe her eyes, and then said, "I accepted the private car."
The judge pressed her about whether she was aware that she was supposed to smuggle cocaine. "I did not know exactly what kind of drugs was in the car . . . I did not know how much," Castenada said.
Did she know drugs were in the car? "I had that feeling," she said.