Wed, Dec 03, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Mennonites smuggle marijuana for Mexican cartels

AP, DENVER, COLORADO

In what prosecutors called a drug smuggling conspiracy between Mennonites and a Mexican drug cartel, a man on Monday was sentenced to 15 months in prison for aiding the movement of tons of marijuana to the US.

Mennonite Christians have historical ties to the Amish, radical Protestant reformers originally known as Anabaptists who adopted pacifism and fled persecution in central Europe for North America. Some conservative Mennonite communities still wear traditional dress and avoid modern technologies.

Abraham Friesen-Remple was sentenced in US District Court for the District of Colorado in Denver to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to using a telephone to facilitate the distribution of marijuana. A US federal judge said he would likely be released later in the day because of time already served.

Prosecutors said he played a minor role as a driver, helping the Juarez cartel — based in the US-Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua — smuggle drugs in the gas tanks of cars and inside farm equipment.

Friesen-Remple was one of seven people indicted, all but one of whom are members of a Mexican Mennonite community in Chihuahua.

Prosecutors also say the Mennonites also grew marijuana for the cartel.

The investigation involved wiretaps in which 32,200 calls were recorded in Spanish and a German dialect used by Mennonites.

Authorities said the operation moved to North Carolina after the arrest of a person who ran a Colorado auto body shop involved in the case.

Court records show Friesen-Remple delivered a shipment of marijuana — hidden in a farm bulldozer — to a home in Shelby, North Carolina. US Drug Enforcement Agency agents tapped his telephone and learned that he was getting directions from someone in Mexico.

The following month, a fellow member of the alleged drug ring, who became a cooperating witness, told agents that Friesen-Remple delivered the 714kg of cannabis that agents found during a search of his home, according to court records.

Friesen-Remple was arrested on Aug. 20 last year, at the Santa Testa Point of Entry in New Mexico. He pleaded guilty to using a telephone to facilitate the distribution of marijuana.

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