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Two plead guilty to pot hauling charges

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

ROANOKE — One man accused of hauling 313 pounds of marijuana to an Interstate 77 exit in Carroll County has been sentenced to five years for his role in the incident, and a second suspect has pleaded guilty.

Two men, Mario Martinez-Casillas and Ramiro Esparza-Ibanez, had been named in a three-count federal indictment on charges that stemmed from the Carroll Sheriff's Office investigation.

A third suspect, Ramon Santiago Sanchez, had been charged under state law with possession with intent to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana and breaking and entering of a motor vehicle.

Martinez-Casillas and Esparza-Ibanez each had been charged in the federal indictment with one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and intent to distribute marijuana.

Martinez-Casillas was sentenced to five years in prison and four years of supervised release thereafter on one count of conspiring to distribute marijuana, according to officials with the U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

Esparaz-Ibanez, has pleaded guilty to the same charge. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 11.

Virginia court records show that the felony distribution of marijuana charge against Ramon Santiago Sanchez of Concord, N.C., was amended to a misdemeanor charge of possession in a hearing in Carroll County General District Court in June.

Found guilty, Sanchez received a suspended sentence of 30 days, a fine of $100, a suspended driver's license and $146 in court costs.

Carroll deputies and a Virginia State Police trooper in March searched a suspicious tractor-trailer parked at the Kangaroo Express on Virginia 148 in Fancy Gap.

They found 313 pounds of marijuana packaged in mustard and coffee grounds.

Deputies found two men in the trailer after talking to the driver, and a police drug dog alerted on the trailer.

The authorities found inside the trailer "panels of aluminum with approximately four inches of Styrofoam insulation between the sections."

The 28 packages with marijuana they retrieved made this the "biggest bust in transporting marijuana" in recent memory.

Deputies investigating the case have seized a 2009 Dodge Nitro, a 2005 Freightliner tractor, a 53-foot refrigerated trailer and $1,600 in cash.

The trailer also had different kinds of produce in it, such as lettuce and broccoli, deputies said.