McALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A smuggler from Rio Grande City pleaded guilty Monday in Operation Ice River, which targeted a drug trafficking organization affiliated with the Gulf Cartel.

Jose Ortiz, 48, of Rio Grande City confessed to smuggling about 4.9 kilograms of cocaine through the Falfurrias checkpoint in February 2021.

“Guilty,” Jose Ortiz said on Monday morning, when he appeared before Chief U.S. District Judge Randy Crane.

Jose Ortiz is a career criminal with two convictions for smuggling marijuana.

In December 2000, a state trooper stopped a tractor-trailer for speeding in San Patricio County.

Jose Ortiz was behind the wheel. His brother, Ruben, was sitting in the passenger seat.

“The Defendant advised the trooper he was taking a load of pineapple to a flea market in Houston,” according to a motion filed by attorney James Stafford of Houston, who represented Jose Ortiz.

When the trooper searched the trailer, however, he found more than just pineapple.

“Trooper Luciano crawled inside the trailer to inspect the load of pineapple and discovered 1,267 lbs. of marijuana in the center of the trailer,” according to the motion. “The marijuana was located in bins and covered with pineapple.”

Jose Ortiz pleaded guilty and was placed on probation for five years.

After being placed on probation, Jose Ortiz started smuggling marijuana again.

In August 2004, a man named Gilbert Guerra was caught smuggling marijuana through the Falfurrias checkpoint.

“Guerra told agents that he had been hired by Jose and Ruben Ortiz to transport the drugs to Houston. According to Guerra this was his third trip,” according to a motion filed by a public defender who represented Jose Ortiz on appeal. “Guerra also told agents that Jose Ortiz would arrange for the cover loads in the Rio Grande Valley and that Ruben Ortiz would receive the drugs in Houston.”

Less than a month later, a state trooper arrested a man named Raul Benavides for smuggling marijuana through Willacy County. He told a similar story.

Jose Ortiz pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge. He was released from federal prison in March 2013, according to court records.

Prosecutors brought a third case against Jose Ortiz in September 2021, during an investigation dubbed Operation Ice River.

The investigation targeted a drug trafficking organization managed by Ignacio “Nacho” Garza, 51, of Rio Grande City and Diego Alberto Reyes Roiz, 42, of Rio Grande City.

Witnesses told prosecutors Garza and Reyes communicated with Gulf Cartel bosses in Mexico. Garza and Reyes, who claim they actually work in construction, pleaded not guilty.

Jose Ortiz picked up about 4.9 kilograms of cocaine from Garza’s house on Feb. 8, 2021, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Cook Profit, who summarized the case on Monday. The next day, Jose Ortiz headed north.

After he passed through the Falfurrias checkpoint, the Brooks County Sheriff’s Office stopped Jose Ortiz’s car and seized the cocaine.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 26. Jose Ortiz faces 5 to 40 years in federal prison.