McALLEN, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — A man who coordinated drug shipments for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge last month.

Ivan Ornelas-Pio smuggled more than 4,400 pounds of methamphetamine, cocaine and other drugs through South Texas, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Prosecutors charged about 70 people during the investigation, including more than a dozen in the Rio Grande Valley.

Ornelas-Pio, however, fled to Mexico in 2018, when the DEA intercepted several drug shipments. He remained on the run until January, when agents tracked Ornelas-Pio down in Campbell, California.

After nine months in jail, Ornelas-Pio struck a deal with prosecutors.

“Guilty,” Ornelas-Pio said on Oct. 27, when he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker at the federal courthouse in McAllen.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, agreed to drop 21 other drug trafficking charges against him.

Attorney Rolando Garza of Edinburg, who represents Ornelas-Pio, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Ornelas-Pio started coordinating drug shipments in 2016 or 2017, when he worked for a McAllen restaurant.

DEA Special Agent Kevin Beverley, who questioned Ornelas-Pio after his arrest, recounted the story during a hearing in April 2023.

According to Ornelas-Pio, a friend named “Choco” asked him for a favor.

“And that favor was to pick up some speaker boxes from a trailer — like a taco truck — down near Pharr, Texas. Near the bridge,” Beverley said. “And that was kind of his first assignment, so to speak.”

The speaker boxes had been packed with drugs.

Ornelas-Pio started recruiting truckers to bring the speaker boxes across the border, Beverley said. When the drugs arrived, he arranged for drivers to deliver them to buyers in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, New York and North Carolina.

The drivers kept Ornelas-Pio informed about every move they made.

“For instance, these drivers would have to contact Mr. Ornelas-Pio once they received the speaker boxes, once they left and got on the road with them, once they successfully made it through the checkpoint,” Beverley said. “And then once the delivery was successfully made in the city as well.”

The DEA began investigating Ornelas-Pio in January 2018. Agents started arresting drivers and seizing drugs.

“So he fled to Mexico,” Beverley said. “Back to Michoacan, where he was from.”

Ornelas-Pio kept coordinating drug shipments from Michoacan until 2020 or 2021, when “Choco” was murdered, Beverley said.

Who killed “Choco” and why remains unclear. Beverley didn’t offer any details.

Ornelas-Pio slipped back across the border and settled in Campbell, a city south of San Francisco.

“He explained that he crossed from Mexico into the U.S. through the Tijuana mountains, I believe, in California, January of 2022,” Beverley said.

The DEA tracked him down in January 2023.

Ornelas-Pio agreed to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining charges against him.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 17. Ornelas-Pio faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.