At the trial of four accused drug smugglers, the prosecution said the defendant’s organization operated the same way any large business would.
“It’s the same thing with these drug-trafficking organizations; they’re just like a business,” Assistant Arizona Attorney General Nanette C. Morrow told jurors on Wednesday.
Morrow said the defendants — Juan Bernardino Araiza-Mancilla, Diana Audelo Sotelo, Norberto Monreal Morgan and Daniel Monreal Morgan — were key players in a drug-trafficking organization that imported large quantities of marijuana and cocaine from Mexico to Tucson.
The group’s organization would resemble any large business, Morrow said, with managers, salespeople, distribution agents and importers. The only difference from a legitimate business was the product, she said.
“Their product was marijuana,” Morrow said.
In her opening arguments in Pima County Superior Court Judge Christopher Browning’s courtroom, Morrow described how the defendants concealed loads of marijuana and cocaine brought into the United States inside truck tires, car dashboards, on the backs of illegal immigrants and stashed inside tractor-trailer loads.
Attorneys for the defendants said the prosecution told an interesting story but argued they had a long way to go to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants did what they are accused of doing.
“You will have doubts; you will have questions,” Sotelo’s attorney, Maria Davila, said.
Daniel Monreal Morgan’s attorney, Eric Manch, said the state would have difficulty proving the defendants were part of any hierarchically organized drug ring.
“It will be clear by the conclusion of the state’s case that they have failed to prove their case,” Manch said.
One witness for the state, truck driver Ronald Campbell, described how he drove tractor-trailer loads of drugs from Nogales to Tucson on behalf of the defendants, until he got caught at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint on Interstate 19 in December 2010.
Although he was supposed to be paid $5,000 to $7,000 per load, Campbell said he was only ever paid a fraction of that.
During cross-examination, defense attorneys asked Campbell if the state promised not to charge him with any crimes if he testified against the defendants.
Campbell said he had been subpoenaed to testify but did not have an explicit agreement with the state. He has not been charged with any crimes.
The defendants were among 15 people arrested in 2012 in connection with what the Attorney General’s Office has described as a large-scale and long-running drug operation.
The defendants were originally charged with numerous crimes, including money laundering, illegally conducting an enterprise, transportation of cocaine and marijuana for sale, use of a wire communication or electronic communication in a drug-related transaction and weapons misconduct, according to a January 2012 news release from the state attorney general.
The case file has since been sealed and was unavailable to the public. The defendants are being tried in absentia and were not present for the trial.
The trial continues today and is scheduled to run for 12 days.