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Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Woman accused of drug smuggling sent to prison

By Margie Wuebker
A 19-year-old Arizona woman, who reportedly came to the Midwest to smuggle drugs as part of an organized network, wept Tuesday morning as Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham sentenced her to one year in prison.
Mariela K. Escobar, of San Luis, was arrested Nov. 9 after she came to Celina to pick up a package containing approximately 25 pounds of marijuana. She pleaded guilty Dec. 12 to possession of drugs as part of a negotiated agreement, which resulted in the dismissal of a trafficking in drugs charge, also a third-degree felony.
"I understand what I did was a huge mistake that I will never do again," she said tearfully. "If I'm given a second chance, I plan to move to California, get a job (at a restaurant) and get an education so I could give my kids a better life and future 'cause they deserve it."
She admitted having plenty of time to think while incarcerated the past 69 days on a $1 million bond, adding "I know I was putting my kids and myself in danger."
Escobar, the mother of a 3-year-old boy and 18-month-old twin girls, reportedly left them in her father's care and boarded a plane bound for the Midwest for the sole purpose of making money. One of her daughters reportedly had health issues at the time.
"She obviously played a role in the crime," defense attorney Donna Post said. "She was used; she was naive and she now realizes this is not the way to earn money."
Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox did not mince words as he looked toward the petite defendant who has no prior criminal convictions.
"She is a drug mule although she doesn't look like it," he said. "Unfortunately, she is a low-level offender and not someone higher up in drug circles."
Noting that Escobar has cooperated with authorities, Fox requested a prison sentence "to protect society, deter her and deter others who might become drug mules."
Ingraham apparently agreed and imposed the minimum sentence to be served at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Mansfield. He also granted 69 days credit and waived a mandatory fine after Post filed an affidavit of indigency on her client's behalf. The maximum sentence is five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
"This is a serious crime," the judge pointed out. "It's the tip of the iceberg involving a much bigger picture."
Celina Police were alerted that someone would be picking up a suspicious package believed to contain drugs at the local United Parcel Service center in the Celina Industrial Park. Police, along with members of the Grand Lake Task Force and deputies from the Mercer County Sheriff's Office, were waiting.
Escobar arrived around 3:20 p.m. Nov. 9 to retrieve the package addressed to K. Marie. She complied with a request to come back 30 to 45 minutes later. The stop took place shortly after 4 p.m. in the area of Grand Lake Road and Industrial Drive.
The cardboard package contained a compacted bundle of marijuana securely wrapped in paper and plastic. The drug reportedly has a street value in excess of $15,000.
Officers also seized a 1995 Cadillac bearing Indiana license plates and approximately $430 in cash at the time of the traffic stop and arrest.
This is not the first time local authorities have apprehended a drug mule making a pickup here in Celina.
Josue Perez, also known as Josue Perez Montor and Thomas Sandoval, of Indianapolis, Ind., was arrested in November 2006 after he came to the same United Parcel Service to retrieve a package containing 27 pounds of marijuana bound in plastic. A subsequent search of the Perez vehicle yielded $250 in cash and several identification cards bearing his picture but different names.
Perez reportedly needed money to support his wife and their two young children so he accepted money from an unnamed source to retrieve the package. Like Escobar, he knew it contained drugs.
The 21-year-old man is currently serving a two-year prison sentence and faces deportation to his Mexican homeland upon release.
Additional online story on this date
At this week's Columbus-based Conference of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner recommended Ohio counties ditch their touch-screen voting machines by the November general election in favor of optical scans. [More]
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