Crime

After a 'terrifying' jail experience, this first-time criminal begs for a 'second chance'

Carlos Orozco said he was only along for the ride with a friend when they got pulled over on Interstate 10 in Harrison County with more than 100 pounds of marijuana stashed in their vehicle.

The 25-year-old from El Paso, Texas, stood before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden on Wednesday morning to be sentenced after pleading guilty to one charge of interstate travel in aid of an unlawful activity, in this case distribution of the marijuana ahead of spring break weekend in April 2017 on the Mississippi Coast.

The two men who pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute the marijuana, Victor Legarda of El Paso and Keandre Marks of Saucier, already have been sentenced in the case.

Legarda agreed to cooperate with investigators after he and Orozco were arrested. The investigators found on Legarda's phone text messages between him and Marks, who was on supervised release at the time in a cocaine trafficking case, about their plans to ship the pot.

Orozco at first said he knew the marijuana was in the vehicle only after he and Legarda crossed the Texas-Louisiana line, but Legarda was prepared to testify his passenger was aware of what was going on from the start.

The marijuana was stashed in the vehicle in vacuum-sealed bags, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathlyn Van Buskirk said.

Orozco graduated high school and previously worked in his parents' restaurant in El Paso. He had no criminal record, but Ozerden noted the young man had abused alcohol, cocaine and anxiety medication.

Before he was sentenced, Orozco faced the judge and said: "I would like to apologize to my community and my family as well. Your honor, please have mercy on me. I would like a second chance."

His attorney, Ellen Allred, said Orozco is intelligent and has an impressive work history.

"Going to jail has been a terrifying and life-altering experience for Mr. Orozco," she said. " . . . That is not the road he wants to continue on."

Ozerden sentenced Orozco to seven months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, with the first six months to be served under home confinement. Orozco also must complete alcohol and/or drug treatment. Ozerden gave him a break, considering he could have served a year to 18 months.

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