A member of the Santiesteban clan’s pot-peddling ring bear-hugged his defense attorney Monday after he was acquitted of killing a rival gang member who stole a load of marijuana from the Southwest Miami-Dade grow-house organization.
Norge Manduley was found not guilty of kidnapping and killing the robber after a handful of government witnesses testified in federal court that he was the shooter, but a couple of defense witnesses countered that he wasn’t the triggerman who killed Fidel Ruz Moreno four years ago.
If convicted, Manduley, 39, would have faced a mandatory life sentence.
“There was a lot on the line here,” Manduley’s attorney, Alfredo Izaguirre, said after the 12-person jury concluded deliberations following a one-week trial.
“The government had a bunch of co-defendants who were all dirty and the jury didn’t like that,” Izaguirre told The Miami Herald. “The government brought no independent witnesses. I brought two independent witnesses who identified another person as the shooter.”
The jury, which began deliberations late Friday, found Manduley guilty of one count: conspiring to possess with intent to distribute less than 100 marijuana plants. Sentencing is set for July 30 before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore.
That verdict was a relief for Manduley, who is serving 10 years in state prison after pleading guilty to separate weapons charges involving a domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend in 2010.
Manduley’s acquittal on the kidnapping offense comes after 17 members of the Santiesteban’s hydroponic grow-house syndicate pleaded guilty following their arrests last year, which led to five defendants testifying against the accused shooter. The ring’s break-up ended one of South Florida’s largest grow-house operations, and spotlighted the violent business of powerful hydroponic marijuana cultivation.
The Santiestebans — a family headed by patriarch and Mariel boatlift refugee Gilberto Sr., and joined by sons Derrick, Gilberto Jr., Alexander and Darvis — were charged last June with operating 20 hydroponic marijuana grow houses since 2004.
The operation yielded at least 1,146 potent pot plants that produced millions of dollars in profits, authorities say.
On June 28, 2009, Derrick and his wife Yadira Santiesteban were packing suitcases full of marijuana at their Southwest Miami-Dade home for a smuggling trip to New York.
When the husband left the house to get more bags, several gunmen posing as police officers barged into the residence and stole about 50 pounds of the pot, triggering a retaliatory plot to kidnap one of the robbers, Ruz, who was killed during the abduction.
In February, Derrick Santiesteban, the 30-year-old boss of the family-run ring that made millions selling potent hydroponic pot from Miami to New York, pleaded guilty to the kidnapping. He also pleaded guilty to conspiracies to distribute marijuana and launder money.
His wife, Yadira, 37, also pleaded guilty to money-laundering conspiracy, in a plea agreement crafted to spare her severe punishment.
Derrick Santiesteban might see his punishment reduced by a federal judge if prosecutors William Athas and Pat Sullivan make the recommendation, based on his assistance with their continuing investigation.
The probe is now focusing on Miami-Dade police officer Roderick Silva, who patrolled the Hammocks area of West Kendall and was suspended with pay in June 2009, records show. The officer, suspected of helping the Santiesteban network, is the brother of a grow-house caretaker, David Silva, who pleaded guilty.