EL PASO, Texas, July 19 (UPI) -- Jury selection has begun in the trial of Hector Noé Mota Nevarez, an accused member of the Texas-based Orrantia drug-trafficking organization.
As attorneys began the process Wednesday, U.S. Marshals stood guard outside the courtroom in El Paso, Texas.
Federal prosecutors say Orrantia was tied to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán's Sinaloa cartel.
Federal, state and local law enforcement agents began investigating the Orrantia group in 2015 and arrested 18 suspected members last year, after a nearly two-year investigation.
The Orrantia organization is accused of smuggling into the El Paso area hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and marijuana, prosecutors said last year when they disrupted the trafficking group.
The joint investigation with federal, state and local authorities resulted in the confiscation of about 5 kilograms of cocaine, 600 kilograms of marijuana, seven vehicles and over $138,000 in cash, prosecutors said.
Mota Nevarez, also known as "El Paquetes," is the only accused Orrantia member not to plead guilty or accept a plea agreement. His case is scheduled to go to trial in front of an El Paso jury Friday and is expected to last a week.
Government prosecutors intend to call a Drug Enforcement Administration agent to testify about "the price of cocaine at the time of this case and common practices and occurrence in drug smuggling in the El Paso area," prosecutors wrote in court filings.
Mota Nevarez was convicted in Colorado in 2009 of possession of a controlled substance. His upcoming trial could offer a rare opportunity to hear how a drug-trafficking organization established ties with the Sinaloa Cartel.
Mario Armando Orrantia, 52, a naturalized U.S. citizen, led the El Paso-based affiliate of the Sinaloa Cartel and recruited additional members, with most living in the border area. Authorities said Orrantia's group used El Paso bars and businesses to launder profits from sales of marijuana and cocaine in Texas, Ohio, South Carolina and Colorado.
Orrantia pleaded guilty in March and will be sentenced later this year.