McALLEN, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — A former Santa Maria school board trustee who smuggled drugs for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel pleaded guilty on Monday.

During a hearing on Monday morning, former Santa Maria school board Trustee Oscar Saldivar Jr., 57, of Weslaco confessed to transporting about 54 pounds of cocaine from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin.

“He was just a transporter,” said attorney Ruben J. Luna of Pharr, who represents Saldivar. “He got caught up with the wrong person.”

The case against Saldivar is part of a federal investigation that focused on Ivan Ornelas-Pio, who coordinated drug shipments for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Ornelas-Pio recruited people to transport drugs across the border and through checkpoints in Texas. They stashed the drugs in speaker boxes, said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Kevin Beverley, who testified about the investigation during a hearing in April.

“They’re usually just square boxes with carpet and a big subwoofer in the middle,” Beverley said. “These speaker boxes do work. You can hook them up to the car, and they will play music.”

Smugglers stuffed the speaker boxes with bricks of cocaine, heroin and other drugs.

“And then, sometimes, the speakers contain just loosely packed crystal methamphetamine,” Beverley said. “So you can remove the subwoofer itself, the speaker, and it’s just slam-packed full of crystal meth right behind the speaker itself.”

Agents seized more than 4,400 pounds of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and fentanyl during the investigation, Beverley said. Prosecutors charged about 70 people, including a mechanic from Edinburg, the owner of a car lot in McAllen and a woman known as “La Bruja.”

Saldivar played a relatively small role in the conspiracy.

On Oct. 2, 2019, a friend arranged for Saldivar to pick up two speaker boxes in Edinburg.

One speaker box contained about 54 pounds of cocaine, according to the indictment against Saldivar and the factual basis for his plea. The other contained about 13 pounds of heroin.

Saldivar transported the speaker boxes to a hotel in Austin.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit, who is prosecuting the case, said law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at the hotel and seized the drugs.

How law enforcement discovered the drugs and why Saldivar wasn’t arrested on federal charges in October 2019 remain unclear.

A grand jury indicted Saldivar, Ornelas-Pio and more than a dozen other people on federal drug trafficking charges in January 2023.

Prosecutors struck a deal with Saldivar in August.

Saldivar agreed to plead guilty to possession of 5 kilograms or more of cocaine with intent to distribute. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop two other charges against him.

Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12. Saldivar faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.