Twelve people who were involved in a massive South Florida grow house operation that ended with the abduction and murder of a man were sentenced in Miami Thursday, authorities said.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the group operated an extensive network of hydroponic marijuana grow houses throughout South Florida. A criminal complaint released last year said members of the Santiesteban family had been growing marijuana plants in at least 20 houses they owned, rented or controlled in Miami-Dade County from 2004 to May 2012.
In 2009, a large amount of marijuana belonging to the organization was stolen and members of the group set out to find the people responsible for the theft. They kidnapped Fidel Ruz Moreno, the person they thought was behind it, and during the abduction Moreno was shot and killed, prosecutors said.
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Federal authorities said Moreno was wrangled out of his car, shot and pushed out the back of a moving vehicle. Moreno was then beaten to death, his body left along a roadway in Southwest Miami-Dade.
The family-run business was almost shut down in 2004, when investigators received a tip of marijuana being grown at one of the residences, officials said. No drugs were found in the home, though, after authorities failed to locate the room containing the drugs that was only accessible from the outside, the report said.
The operation continued for years and federal authorities estimate about 1,146 plants were harvested.
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On Thursday, Derrick Santiesteban was sentenced to life in prison on charges of drug, money laundering, and kidnapping with death resulting. Juan Felipe Castañeda was sentenced to 360 months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release, on charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana.
Alexander Santiesteban was sentenced to 262 months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release, on charges of conspiracy to possess one thousand or more marijuana plants with the intent to distribute and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
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German Silvestro was sentenced to 144 months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. David Silva, Francisco Javier Diaz, Alejandro Pimentel, and John Villalonga were each sentenced to 120 months in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. Raul Fabian Ramirez, Jr. was sentenced to 46 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release. Each of these defendants previously pled guilty to conspiracy to possess 1,000 or more marijuana plants with the intent to distribute.
Yadira Santiesteban was sentenced to 70 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Dayana Castellanos was sentenced to 37 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release. Estrella J. Mijares was sentenced to 37 months in prison, to be followed by one year of supervised release. Each of these defendants pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Gilberto Santiesteban Jr., Darvis Santiesteban and Gilberto Santiesteban, Sr. have pled guilty to charges related to the grow house operation and are awaiting sentencing.
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