McALLEN, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — A diesel mechanic from Austin who moonlighted as a drug smuggler was sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison on Thursday.
Chief U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Jose Francisco Diaz, 45, of Austin to 3 years and 10 months in federal prison during a hearing on Thursday afternoon.
With his wife and ex-wife watching from the gallery, Diaz apologized to God, the court and his family. Diaz said the past two years, which he spent in jail, were difficult.
“At the same time, I’m grateful to God for opening my eyes to show me right from wrong,” Diaz said.
Diaz was born in Matamoros and raised in Monterrey. In the mid-1990s, he moved to Austin and became a diesel mechanic.
Documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office show Diaz owned several businesses — DZ Hauling, DZ Transportation and DZ Mobile Mechanic — that operated from a large, fenced lot on the far east side of Austin.
Diaz apparently did well.
In 2010, he purchased a home near the Colorado River, according to Travis Central Appraisal District records.
Documents filed in court, which summarized Diaz’s tax returns, show he reported more than $200,000 in gross income during 2018, 2019 and 2020.
When he began smuggling drugs remains unclear.
In 2021, however, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration intercepted phone calls between Diaz and Ignacio “Nacho” Garza, 51, of Rio Grande City.
Garza headed a drug trafficking organization affiliated with the Gulf Cartel, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit, who summarized the investigation during several hearings in 2021.
The organization delivered cocaine and marijuana to Diaz, who distributed the drugs to buyers in Austin, Dallas and Waco.
“He’s not a low-level mule,” Profit said during a hearing on Nov. 12, 2021. “I think he plays a much larger role in the organization and, in particular, in a distribution cell in Austin.”
Informants told the government that Diaz received about 22 to 33 pounds of cocaine and about 440 to 1,300 pounds of marijuana per month.
“One of the individuals indicated that they were with him when he received $70,000 to $80,000 from an individual in Dallas, Texas, to take back,” Profit said during a hearing on Nov. 19, 2021.
During the investigation, which the government dubbed Operation Ice River, agents intercepted phone calls between Garza and Diaz.
On Feb. 9, 2021, when a cocaine shipment was seized in Brooks County, they discussed the drug bust.
“It got stopped,” Garza said, according to a transcript of the phone call, which the DEA translated from Spanish to English. “It got stopped with the trailer with, with the animals and everything, dude.”
“But was it carpet, or sheetrock, dude?” Diaz asked.
Carpet was code for marijuana, Profit said, and sheetrock was code for cocaine.
“It was sheetrock, dude,” Garza said, according to the transcript.
Less than a month later, the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office caught Diaz with about 600 pounds of marijuana.
The Sheriff’s Office dropped the case against Diaz but kept his truck, a 2018 Dodge Ram 3500.
A federal grand jury indicted Diaz on drug trafficking and money laundering charges in September 2021.
Diaz pleaded guilty to possession of 500 grams or more of cocaine with intent to distribute. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop four other charges against him.
He returned to court Thursday afternoon for sentencing.
Attorney Rey Merino of McAllen, who represented Diaz, said his client took more than 50 classes while incarcerated and worked in the jail laundry. Diaz also participated in Bible study.
“He was a man of faith before,” Merino said. “But now it’s stronger than ever.”
Diaz also met with the government after his arrest.
“I won’t go into details. It’s in the memo,” Merino said, referring to a sealed document filed in the case. “But he did try to be of assistance.”
Crane, the federal judge, sentenced Diaz to 3 years and 10 months in prison. Crane also recommended that Diaz be placed in a prison where he could participate in a drug treatment program.
“That program is going to take some time off of your sentence. And it’s going to convert the last six months to a halfway house,” Crane said. “You don’t have a whole lot more to do in custody because you’re going to get good time credit. So just finish out your sentence here and you’ll be reunited with your family.”