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High-ranking drug smuggler gets 20 years in prison

Man used Stanfield ranch as stash house for drug-trafficking organization

A high-ranking member of a Mexican drug trafficking organization was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for moving tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana and hundreds of pounds of heroin and cocaine into the United States, state Attorney General Tom Horne announced Thursday.

Hilario Aguirre, of Stanfield, was found guilty March 29 of conspiracy to possess and transport marijuana, illegally conducting an enterprise, and possession of marijuana for sale, said Amy Rezzonico, a spokeswoman for Horne's office, in a press release.

During sentencing, Pinal County Superior Court Judge Bradley Soos took into consideration the jury's finding of additional aggravating factors. Soos also found two aggravating factors, including the amount of marijuana and that Aguirre had been arrested on related charges just 12 days before the arrest for which he was sentenced, Rezzonico said.

Soos sentenced Aguirre to two 20-year terms for the conspiracy and marijuana charges, and 15 years on the illegal enterprise charge, with all sentences to run concurrently, Rezzonico said.

On Oct. 11, 2010, a search warrant was obtained by the Pinal County Narcotics Task Force for a large horse ranch in Stanfield, west of Casa Grande near the Tohono O'odham Reservation, that was suspected of being used as a stash house, Rezzonico said.

Authorities found 306 bundles of marijuana that weighed 5,044 pounds and arrested an associate of Aguirre's and three people at the property who were suspected of backpacking the drugs across the reservation, Rezzonico said.

Aguirre, who owned the ranch, was taken into custody while conducting counter-surveillance ahead of a shipment of marijuana near the property. He confessed to being involved with the drug-trafficking organization but gave false information about the others involved, Rezzonico said.

During the investigation, called "Operation Pipeline Express," authorities found out that one of Aguirre's brothers was the U.S.-based leader of the smuggling operation, Rezzonico said.

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The Pinal County Narcotics Task Force is made up of officers and deputies from the Department of Homeland Security, Pinal County Sheriff's Department, the Department of Public Safety, and the Florence and Coolidge police departments.

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Arizona Attorney General's Office

Hilario Aguirre