DENVER | It was an unlikely alliance that authorities said Monday involved a group of pacifist Mexican Mennonites accused of growing tons of marijuana and shipping it across the U.S. border with the help of a Mexican cartel.

Abraham Friesen-Remple was one of six members of the Mennonite farming community in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc who were indicted and accused of smuggling pot in the gas tanks of cars and inside farm equipment.

Friesen-Remple was sentenced in federal court in Denver to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to using a telephone to facilitate the distribution of marijuana. A judge said he would likely be released later in the day because of time already served.

FILE - In this May 8, 2014 file photo legally-grown marijuana grows at a dispensary in Denver. In what prosecutors called a drug smuggling conspiracy involving Mennonites and a Mexican drug cartel, a Mennonite man was sentenced Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 to 15 months in prison for aiding the movement of tons of marijuana to the U.S. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Law enforcement officials said the trafficking partnership is nothing new. But the case of Friesen-Remple illustrates how the Mennonites worked with the Juarez cartel in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

“You had ready access to the border, and you had a skilled labor pool in terms of their ability to work with machinery and welding and anything that you would find in an agricultural community,” said Glenn Gaasche, a supervisor in the Grand Junction, Colorado, office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He said the Mennonites, skilled as welders, would fill a secret space inside farming machinery with pot before trucking it across the border.

The exact role of the cartel isn’t clear. But Gaasche said such crime organizations control the Mexico side of the border and likely aren’t going to let tons of weed cross without getting a cut of the proceeds.

“There’s going to be some coordination and some money changing hands,” he said.

The investigation involved wiretaps in which 32,200 calls were recorded in Spanish and a German dialect used by Mennonites.

In the Friesen-Remple case, Mennonite drivers took the weed to Colorado then to North Carolina after the arrest of a person who ran a Colorado Springs auto body shop involved in the case.

Marijuana had been off-loaded at the shop, and drivers such as Friesen-Remple took it to other places across the country, authorities said.

Court records show he once delivered a shipment of marijuana — hidden in a farm bulldozer — to a home in Shelby, North Carolina. DEA agents tapped his phone and learned he was getting directions from someone in Mexico.

The next month, a fellow member of the drug ring, who became a cooperating witness, told agents Friesen-Remple delivered 1,575 pounds of pot that agents found during a search of his home, according to court records.

“In our case, I’m quite sure that some of those transporters were told to go to a certain stash house, some were told to meet a certain distributor, and some of those people may be operating their own little business stashing stuff for the cartel or moving money,” Gaasche said.

Friesen-Remple was arrested on Aug. 20, 2013, in the Santa Teresa Point of Entry in New Mexico.

During sentencing on Monday, U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer noted his lack of criminal history and limited role in drug distribution.

The Mennonite community in Chihuahua dates to the 1920s, when thousands of Mennonites moved from Canada to northern Mexico to preserve a way of life rooted in farming and objection to military service. They continue to farm and ranch in isolated communities.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people are honest hardworking people, you just have that 1 percent that have gone sideways,” Gaasche said.

15 replies on “Mennonite sentenced in cartel Colorado drug smuggling case”

    1. The fascists who prop up our criminal injustice system should be expelled from our country as enemy combatants against our Constitution.

        1. The so-called “land of the free” now imprisons more people than any other on the face of the Earth; this is objectively the least free country, and the two criminal political organizations with a stranglehold over our politics are responsible. The traitors controlling our government have abrogated the Bill of Rights and must be deposed.

          1. I agree silly or worse. You are saying the dems and pubs are worse than the terrorists that live south of the border. These guys dumped 35 bodies on a Mexican highway as a message to the Zeta cartel. Why would you support that?

            At the very least these religious groups are skirting tax laws. We are a country of laws, our founding fathers believed in tariffs on goods. Why should we not enforce the beliefs of the founding fathers?

            I understand your war on drugs, but come on we cannot defend our country against these terrorist groups that we call cartels. Get a grip. When you find dozens of mass graves while searching for missing college students and your family gets forced into drug pushing then tell us where the land of the free is.

          2. If “free” means not living in a cell (and it does), then the United States is the least free country on Earth — those responsible do not deserve the protection of the laws or to live here.

          3. Tell it to North Korea, I suppose they don’t live in cells, but they must really like work camps. Get a grip, I don’t think this is the people you really want to defend. Unless you have some kind of stake in drug cartels…

          4. No, I’m telling it to you: the country that imprisons more people than any other cannot be “the land of the free”. Those who ignore the appalling contradiction of our founding principles are anti-American fascists and their dupes; which are you?

          5. Robert – what’s your problem? Did you get caught doing
            something illegal and got locked up because of it?

            It is very likely that we have a more competent police force and criminals actually do get what they’ve earned – a stay in the pokey.

            In other countries you can usually buy your way out or simply buy a judge – not so much here.

          6. Confronted with the fact that we have betrayed our heritage of freedom by incarcerating more people than any other nation (making this the land of hypocrisy rather than that of the free), you shrug it off; your problem is that you are a fascist dupe.

          7. I’m not a dupe nor a fascist Robert. No heritage is betrayed either. What you are seeing is law enforcement that is pretty much carried out as law makers and voters desire making our country safe and a beacon for all sorts that want to sneak in – because it is safer and more prosperous than elsewhere.
            Drop the jingos and look at reality – you’ll feel better.

          8. I think he might be a doper, mad his supply of some illicit drug cannot make it into the US easier. Though he is at least partially right, we must be dupes to be sucked into a debate as dumb as this one… time served is the punishment for supporting the cartels and this guy acts like they buried him alive.

  1. High profile veteran Harvey Steinberg was the defense attorney for poor mislead Friesen-Remple. Harvey’s
    practice is usually the Professional ball player type; NEWS FLASH- this wasn’t
    Remple’s first rodeo. This was the first time he got sloppy and got caught. The Grand Jury did their job well to green light the case for cause. The court had an interpreter for this illegal enterprising fellow, and ICE may or may not have a claim on his freedom unless
    he is one of the 5 million that has a free pass coming to a neighborhood by you. We will see this upstanding
    illegal again, this certainly is musical chairs for the judicial system.

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