An Elgin man who was the third person implicated in a $1 million bust of high-grade marijuana along Interstate 88 in Aurora has received a second chance.
Mario Hernandez, 37, of the 700 block of South Street, was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months probation and fined $5,270 after pleading guilty to attempted unlawful possession of cannabis, a misdemeanor.
Through a court interpreter, Hernandez vowed to focus on work and to "behave."
"I learned a lot. It was a big mistake, and I learned a lot," said Hernandez, who had no previous criminal record.
He originally was charged with felony drug trafficking conspiracy after filing a missing-person report with the Kane County's sheriff's office in January 2011. The report was for one of two men busted on Interstate 88 with 56 pounds of high-grade marijuana in their trunk after they failed to pay a 60-cent toll earlier that month.
The men in the car, Pablo Galeana-Rueda, 35, of Aberdeen, Wash., and Jose Hernandez-Calderon, 42, of Santa Rosa, Calif., have pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 8½ and 8 years in prison, respectively.
A sheriff's deputy noted the two men didn't know each other's last names and had soft, noncallused hands after claiming to be headed to Chicago to find construction work.
Hernandez entered a cold plea in August 2011 to the trafficking charge, which carried six to 30 years in prison with no possibility of probation, and two other marijuana felonies. In a cold plea, a defendant admits guilt without a previously agreed upon sentence with the state and lets a judge make the final decision.
On Tuesday, prosecutors allowed Hernandez to withdraw his previous guilty pleas and lessened the charges to the misdemeanor.
"The sentence you've agreed to for the misdemeanor is much, much different from (what) you could have received on the other three (charges,)" Judge Patricia Golden told Hernandez before wishing him well.
If Hernandez violates his probation, he could be sentenced to up to 364 days in jail -- but he won't go to prison.
The Kane County state's attorney's office said Wednesday that it evaluated the case and Hernandez's lack of criminal history and made the decision after consulting with the arresting agency, which in this case was the Kane County sheriff's office.