MIAMI (AP) — A dozen people have been sentenced in a South Florida grow house operation that ended after the murder of a man suspected of stealing their marijuana, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, Derrick Santiesteban, whose family ran the operation, was sentenced to life in prison for drug distribution, money laundering and kidnapping with death resulting, and Juan Felipe Castaneda was sentenced to 30 years for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana.
The Santiestebans — Mariel boatlift refugee Gilberto Sr. and his sons Derrick, Gilberto Jr., Alexander and Darvis — were arrested last year and accused of operating hydroponic marijuana grow houses throughout the Miami-area since 2004. Authorities claimed the operation yielded more than 1,000 plants that produced millions in profits.
Their lucrative operation began to fall apart in June 2009 when several gunmen posing as police officers stole about 40 pounds of marijuana that Derrick Santiesteban and his wife Yadira had been preparing for transport to New York. Derrick Santiesteban recognized one of the robbers from surveillance video as Fidel Ruz Moreno. Derrick Santiesteban and Castaneda, along with Norge Manduley and Gilberto Santiesteban Jr., kidnapped Ruz Moreno, who turned up dead three days later.
Authorities identified Manduley as the shooter, but a jury acquitted him of the killing earlier this week. He was, however, convicted of conspiracy to possess marijuana plants with the intent to distribute and faces up to 20 years in prison at his July 30 sentencing.
Gilberto Santiesteban Jr. previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. He faces life in prison at his July 18 hearing.
That same day, Gilberto Santiesteban Sr. and Darvis Santiesteban face possible life sentences after previously pleading guilty to their involvement in the drug operation.
The 10 others already sentenced for participating in the grow house operation are Alexander Santiesteban, Yadira Santiesteban, German Silvestro, David Silva, Francisco Javier Diaz, Alejandro Pimentel, John Villalonga, Raul Fabian Ramirez Jr., Dayana Castellanos and Estrella J. Mijares.