One by one, the six co-defendants of a man from El Salvador accused of smuggling 10 pounds of cocaine into Gainesville pleaded guilty to the charges, but Carlos Maldonado opted to take his case to trial.
This week in a federal courtroom in Gainesville, a jury acquitted Maldonado, 27, of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
Maldonado, who began the trial looking at a sentence of 10 years to life if convicted of the drug charges, ended up with a six-month sentence for entering the country illegally.
Sentencing for the remaining six defendants has not been scheduled. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story will sentence defendants Adan Chamu-Balbuena, Jose Goicochea-Pacheco, Gabriel Diaz-Cuadejas, Jonathon Mendez, Rogelio Juarez-Rebollar and Samuel David Rivera for their roles in the drug conspiracy.
Three of the defendants testified against Maldonado at his trial this week, but it was not enough to sway the jury.
Maldonado’s defense attorney, William Hollingsworth, said he was able to undercut their credibility by pointing out they got deals from the government for their cooperation.
Prosecutors agreed to adjust their sentencing recommendations in exchange for the negotiated pleas, Hollingsworth said.
The men were charged in April 2009 when undercover agents with the Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad used a confidential informant to set up a cocaine buy from the men, who lived in Gwinnett County.
Following a traffic stop on Monroe Drive in Gainesville, the cocaine was found under the driver’s seat in a hidden compartment of a Toyota. Six of the seven men, including Maldonado, were riding in a “tail car” behind the Toyota.
Authorities said they seized 5 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $500,000.
Hollingsworth said his client was only riding with the other co-defendants and had no knowledge of the drug deal.
Maldonado, who has already served a year in jail awaiting trial, remains in custody of the U.S. Marshals.
He likely will be turned over to immigration officials for deportation to El Salvador in the next few months, his attorney said.