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posted: 1/15/2010 12:01 AM

Island Lake man sentenced in pot-smuggling case

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An Island Lake man was sentenced to more than seven years in prison Thursday for his role in a marijuana smuggling operation that was busted in 2008, federal authorities said.

Leobardo Rico Lara, 42, whose exact address was not released by the U.S. attorney's office, was convicted in August of possession with the intent to distribute nearly 2 tons of marijuana.

He was one of five men arrested in the case. The others also have been convicted in U.S. District Court in Rockford and sentenced to prison, the U.S. attorney's office reported in a news release.

They include another Island Lake man: Arturo Morales, 38, address unknown, who was convicted of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute. Convicted on the same charges were Israel Pillado, 22, of Chicago, and Irineo Gonzalez, 30, of Mexico.

In December, Morales was sentenced to six years in prison; Pillado was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison; Gonzalez was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

A fifth man, Casimoro Hernandez, 34, of Waukegan, pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute. He was sentenced in November to 18 months in prison.

The smuggling operation was discovered in March 2008 after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in South Carolina searched a shipping container and found 204 decorative vases that contained bricks of marijuana, according to the news release.

The shipping container had been headed to a McHenry industrial park, authorities said. With a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent working undercover, the container was delivered later in the month to McHenry.

Hernandez, Morales, Gonzalez, Pillado and Lara were arrested afterward.