A history of violence surrounds a Miami family that operated marijuana grow-houses in Miami since 2004. They paid a multitude of caretakers to watch over the crops and were known to be cultivating over 1000 marijuana plants worth millions of dollars, according to Federal authorities.
They were the owners of dozens of houses all over Dade County, but had the property titles listed under the names of other less significant-known collaborators, according to the prosecution in a case that involved the 2009 murder of Fidel Ruz Moreno, who the family believed was stealing marijuana plants from one of their properties.
After finding out that his Miami drug operation was under investigation, it is believed that Gilberto Santiesteban Jr. who ran the operation fled to Mexico in early 2010. But it is thought that in the latter part of the year, he paid a “coyote” to sneak him back into the U.S.
Gilberto’s three brothers were also known as kingpins of the grow-house enterprise.
In June 2012, thirteen men and women, who were either family members or persons associated with the family, were arrested for their involvement in the enormous grow-house network. Federal authorities said that the arrests included baby-faced Gilberto, his Father; Gilberto Sr. and his three brothers. Norge Manduley, 39, another member of the “family” was also arrested in the roundup.
Manduley was accused of hijacking Moreno’s cargo van, beating him severely, then shooting him and putting the body into the cargo hold of his van
As his empire dissolved, on April 29, Gilberto pled guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Since February, the detained Santiesteban family and their cronies have been dealing with the prosecution in attempts to lessen the time they would have to serve for their crimes. One of the brothers, Derrick Santiesteban, along with his wife Yadira pled guilty on February 15. Five of the other defendants, including Brother Alexander Santiesteban went on to plead guilty later in the month. Four more of their connections pled guilty in March.
On April 12, the Father, Gilberto Sr., joined the rest of his codefendants with a guilty plea. Gilberto Jr. and another brother, Darvis, were the last plead out with exception to Manduley who was found not guilty of kidnapping and the murder when deliberations concluded last Monday following a weeklong trial. The jury did find Manduley guilty of one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute less than 100 marijuana plants.
Manduley hugged his defense attorney after hearing the outcome of the jury’s considerations.
It appears that the jury had their doubts about the murder and kidnapping charges when a group of government witnesses testified in federal court that Manduley was the shooter, but a few of the defense witnesses disputed that fact and stated that he wasn’t the person who fired the weapon that killed Fidel Ruz Moreno in 2009.
“There was a lot on the line here,” Manduley’s attorney said after the 12-person jury’s acquittal of his client.
He told a reporter from the Miami Herald that “The government had a bunch of co-defendants who were all dirty and the jury didn’t like that… The government brought no independent witnesses. I brought two independent witnesses who identified another person as the shooter.”
If convicted, Manduley would have had to face a compulsory life sentence. He’ll be sentenced for the one count guilty verdict on July 30 before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore.
The head of the organization, the younger Gilberto’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 18.
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