NAPLES — Three members of a successful, $3.85 million, high-grade marijuana grow house operation in Golden Gate Estates, East Naples, North Port and Punta Gorda were sentenced today to 10 years in federal prison.
U.S. District Court Judge John Steele in Fort Myers imposed the terms on Manuel Torres, 35, and Roberto “Michaila” Piñeda, 45, both of Naples, and Ivan Curbelo, 42, of North Port, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 or more kilograms — 220.46 pounds — of marijuana. It was the minimum mandatory term.
Steele, who heard arguments from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesus Casas and defense attorneys, also ordered the men to serve five years of supervised release and to pay $850,000 restitution, an amount calculated by the number of plants and profits per pound.
“The judge could have sentenced them to life imprisonment,” said Curbelo’s attorney, René Suarez of Fort Myers, whose client began working for the ring in 2007. “The minimum of 10 is especially appropriate for Mr. Curbelo in that he has no prior criminal history whatsoever and was a late comer into the conspiracy. ...”
“The real news is that José Diaz, the admitted organizer and leader of the conspiracy who most profited from the enterprise, only received 6½ years for cooperating with the government,” he added.
A fourth man, Francisco Arevalo, 45, of Naples, was convicted of lesser charges and sentenced to 1½ years in prison and three years of supervision. Sentencing for the fifth man who went to trial, Torres' brother, Hector Torres of Naples, was delayed until Thursday.
Diaz also must serve five years of supervision, but like his employees may never do that because they all face deportation.
After the September 2009 bust, investigators seized more than $500,000 in assets, including a video security system, trucks, cars, a motorcyle and boat — all of which will be auctioned by the government.
All were convicted after an eight-day trial on May, when Diaz, nicknamed "Joint" and "Crazy Legs," took the stand to detail for jurors how his $3.85 million high-grade marijuana grow house worked over seven years, operating in Golden Gate Estates, East Naples, North Port and Punta Gorda.
Diaz detailed his employees’ jobs, and how they distributed marijuana in Collier, Lee, Sarasota and Miami-Dade counties. As jurors listened to tapes played by Casas, Diaz explained the drug lingo he and employees used in their phone conversations, as well as detailing pay rates, how caretakers were advised in cultivation techniques, how it was transported, how they set up grow houses, and how they laundered proceeds to hide the hefty profits.
Although his sentence was lenient due to his cooperation, he must pay $3.85 million in restitution.
Others who accepted plea deals already are serving prison terms.
Herman “Punti” “El Indio” Torres, 32, of Naples, who managed grow houses in Collier County, and Damien Caro Alzarez, who also is known as Alvarez, 41, of Northport, also were sentenced to 10 years followed by five years of supervised release.
Hector, Manuel and Herman Torres' sister, Veronica Torres of Naples, was sentenced to 366 days in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release for manufacturing marijuana — for accepting payment and allowing Piñeda and Arevalo to use her home on Everglades Boulevard South.
Osiel "The Cabinet Maker" Marin, 40, of Hallandale, was sentenced to 27 months and three years of supervised release; Juan "Chiqui" Lorenzo, 35, of Miami, is serving 1½ years and three years of supervised release, and Alexys Gonzalez, 35, of Miami, is serving 37 months and three years of supervision.
Diaz’s plea agreement shows the high-grade marijuana was sold for $3,500 per pound, at least 1,100 pounds were sold from 2002 to 2009, and he employed Herman Torres and Curbelo as his grow house managers.
Torres managed Collier grow houses, which also included a Jim’s Stowaway storage unit on Radio Road in East Naples and Diaz’s home on Eighth Avenue Southeast. He also managed homes in Lee and Sarasota counties — three in North Port and one in Punta Gorda.
Curbelo managed two in North Port and provided baby marijuana plants to the Estates grow house for further cultivation.Marin, Lorenzo and Gonzalez distributed marijuana, collected the money and turned it over to Diaz, who then paid his managers and cultivators.
The DEA, Naples police, Collier and Lee County Sheriff’s offices and others began investigating in early 2008, spending months listening to wiretapped conversations, conducting surveillance, using confidential informants, and GPS tracking devices in “Operation Case Verdé.